Norwood looking for bigger things on the track

By GEOFFREY STOUTE

Vernon Norwood wants you to know who he is.

If he keeps turning in performances like he did this past year during his fresh-man season at South Plains, a junior college in Levelland, Texas, it may not be long before you do.

Norwood, a former prep track standout and 2011 Morgan City High School graduate, capped his first season on the National Junior College Athletic Association level with a national runner-up finish in the 400-meter run and a national championship with teammates in the 4x400 meter relay. Both performances helped South Plains capture its sixth consecutive outdoor national title.

Oh, and earlier in the sea-son, Norwood also turned in a U.S. Olympic trials’ qualifying mark in the 400-meter run.

While he does acknowledge the success he had on the track this year, Norwood explains how it came about: hard work.

“It was a pretty good year,” he said last week. “I did some good things. My coach told me, ‘(If) you work hard, great things will happened and you’ll surprise yourself in the end when you work so hard.’”

Part of that work involved adjusting to the workouts on the college level, including weightlifting on a daily basis, as well as the altitude change. In western Texas, Norwood was ex-posed to a dry climate unlike the humid conditions in south Louisiana.

Of course, whatever the conditions were on race day, though, Norwood had to adjust as well.

“At the college level, it doesn’t matter what conditions (exist),” he said. “It could be raining. It could be cold. You still have to compete.”

While much of his success was achieved during the outdoor season, Norwood had at least one memorable moment during the indoor season. At the USA Track and Field Classic at the University of Arkansas, he and fellow South Plains freshmen, Tyler Harper, Alistair Moona and Bralon Taplin placed second behind Division 1 track power, the University of Arkansas, and ahead of another Division 1 track power, LSU, in the 4x400 meter relay. The South Plains quartet finished with a time of 3:05.16, the second fastest on record in NJCAA competition.

The race was shown a day later on ESPN2.

“We ain’t no push-over school just because we’re two years,” Norwood said of the school, where athletes attend for two years before hopefully finishing off their collegiate eligibility at a four-year school. “People know when South Plains is at the meet … they’re ready to run.”

In his main event, the 400-meter run, Norwood posted a season-best indoor mark of 47.49 seconds at the Red Raider Open in early February at Texas Tech.

More than a month later early in the outdoor season, Norwood posted a U.S. Olympic Trial qualifying time when he won the 400-meter run in 45.72 seconds at the University of Texas-El Paso’s Springtime Invitational.

At the NJCAA Outdoor Championships held at South Plains’ facilities, Norwood placed second with a time of 46.42 seconds. Taplin got the best of his teammate as he won the national title with a mark of 46 seconds.

In the 4x400 meter relay, though, Norwood and Taplin along with Dakarie McKinnie and Harper combined their efforts to win a national championship with a mark of 3:05.99.

While he could have continued his sensational fresh-man season at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., and competed with other quarter milers for a chance to represent the United States at the Olympics, which begin this weekend in London, Norwood said he felt he was not ready.

Instead, he is back in Morgan City working out this month with fellow local collegiate track participants, Nia Stewart, a junior at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and incoming SLU freshman Austin Stroud.

While his Olympic dreams are on hold for now, make no mistake about it: Norwood is gunning for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Of course,” he said, answering the question before it’s even finished being asked. “That’s the goal right there.”

In the meantime, though, he’s got his sophomore season to prepare for and a list of Division 1 collegiate track offers to mull.

While Norwood said he is “pretty sure” he knows where he will sign a scholarship to attend, he declined to identify the school

However, he did say he plans to visit LSU, Florida, Florida State, Louisiana Tech, and either Penn State or the University of Southern California.

“I’m just going to see how it goes from there, but I already got in mind where I want to go,” he said. “I’m going to keep that under the hat for now.”

Norwood said in addition to the five schools he will be visiting, he holds scholarship offers from Texas Tech, Texas Christian, the University of Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor.

To put that list in perspective, Florida won both the indoor and outdoor track and field titles this year, while LSU was the outdoor runner up. Texas A&M and Florida State finished third and fourth, respectively during the outdoor season, while Texas placed ninth.

Not bad for a kid trying to make a name for himself, and one who refuses to publicly state what the goals are for his sophomore season.

“Like I said, if I continue to get stronger and keep working hard, I’m going to surprise some people, and they’re going to really know who Vernon Norwood is,” he said.

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