Four years ago when Michigan State linebacker Chris Norman was still a student at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and his coaching staff had a spring evaluation at Norman’s high school. Following the evaluation, Dantonio talked to the Renaissance coach and expressed his interest in Norman’s talents.
Later that day, Dantonio answered the phone and to his surprise it was Norman. Chris was on the other end saying that he wanted to commit to Michigan State right then and there. When Dantonio asked him if he was sure, Norman said that he was.
He never faltered on that commitment.
When Norman arrived on campus in the Fall of 2009, his impact was felt immediately. As a true freshman, Chris appeared in all 13 games for the Spartans, and made his first career start in just his third game against Notre Dame.
Since then, Norman has appeared in 47 games, including 30 starts and has recorded 185 tackles for the Spartans. This season, as a senior, Chris was elected captain by his teammates and although injuries have hampered him a bit this season, Norman has embraced his leadership role.
“More than anything though you see Chris Norman grow as a person,” Dantonio said. “When I think of leaders, I always think of when you become a leader, you’re really becoming a servant. I think that he’s done that. He’s given of himself; he’s put others in front of him throughout the entire process. He’s a quiet, unassuming guy, and had to take the role of a vocal guy this year. Even though that might not always be his personality, he’s done a great job with that, embracing that and stepping forward in that responsibility.”
Today, as Norman looks ahead to this Saturday’s game, Chris know’s that he, along with his fellow Michigan State seniors will be playing in their final game as Michigan State football players at Spartan Stadium. The game will be against the Northwestern Wildcats, a 7-3 team that is coming off of a wild game against Michigan where they lost 38-31 in overtime.
“I’m going to intentionally take out the time to suck it all in to look up in the stands and look at Spartan Stadium and pay attention on the walk and let it resonate because it will be my last time doing this and I want it to count,” Norman said of the game. “I saw guys from previous years, and I wondered what was going through their minds, what was going through their hearts when they knew it was their last go around at Spartan Stadium and I always wondered what it felt like so I guess I’m going to get my opportunity on Saturday.”
And what the Spartans will be looking to do Saturday is improve upon their 5-5 record and become bowl eligible for the sixth straight season. They have two games left to do it and are hoping to finish the season 7-5.
But even as Norman plays in his final game at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, it won’t be the last you hear of him. During his time here, Norman has made it his effort to leave a legacy that goes beyond just football.
It all started when a friend told Norman of Ultimate Training Camp, a football camp for Christian football players in Colorado. When he heard of it, he headed out to Colorado to see what it was all about. When he got there, the experience really taught him a lot and Norman came back with a new outlook on life and from there he knew what his life would be all about.
Norman is now part of something here called Athletes in Action, a sports ministry program for college athletes that is focused on spreading the word through sports. This past spring break, Norman traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa on a mission trip with Athletes in Action. During his time there he saw the world through a different lens and really learned what it was like to live in a different country.
Also through his involvement in this program, Norman has built leadership qualities and friendships with other members of the team. One, most notably who wears the same number as Norman.
“The relationship that I’ve built with Chris especially recently, I really cherish,” Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. “He’s become one of my closest friends. You would call it a brotherhood because of our roots in Christ. We’ve gotten to know each other from AIA (Athletes in Action). When he came back from Ultimate Training Camp last summer, he came back really changed. He’s challenged me in my walk with Christ, and we’ve grown together through that.”
And come this Saturday, even as Chris Norman puts on the number 10 jersey and steps out onto the field of Spartan Stadium for one last time, people around him know that it is not the end for Norman. Whether his future will behold him playing on Sunday’s or doing something else to help people, one thing’s for certain, it is most definitely not the end.
“I’ll always remember Chris as an outstanding person,” Dantonio said. “He’ll be a difference maker in society. Whether that be in Detroit or anywhere he decides to live, he’ll be a difference maker. He’ll make an impact on people.”
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