CONWAY — As the Coastal Carolina football program formally turned the page to a new era and kicked off its 10th season Saturday night, it also honored one of the bigger stars from its recent history by welcoming former Chanticleers cornerback Josh Norman back to the sidelines.
Norman, who ranks second in Big South Conference history with 13 interceptions, finished his collegiate career last fall and has since been turning heads as a rookie with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
When the Panthers open their season Sept. 9, Norman is expected to have steady role after making a strong impression this summer as a fifth-round draft pick. But first, he had the opportunity to return to Brooks Stadium on Saturday for the Chants’ season opener against North Carolina A&T to receive a framed jersey in a pregame ceremony and reminisce a bit about his feats in Conway.
“I’m extremely overtaken by this,” Norman said, standing on the sidelines before the game. “There’s more than 9,000 fans here and this is the team that I got my first interception on, so I’m super excited for this.”
Norman drew rave reviews throughout training camp with the Panthers, including one practice where he made four interceptions to boost the buzz around one of the Chants’ most accomplished former players.
“That’s flashes of what I can do,” Norman said Saturday. “I’ve got to continuously get better. I fail every day. Realize, I fail every day. But I’m able to bounce back from that by watching film and getting better at what I’m supposed to do and my keys, my assignments and my responsibilities, and from it I can grow.”
Norman said he’s been told he’ll see action on second and third downs and when the opposing offense is likely to threw deep, playing an outside corner role in those situations.
“That’s my job. For right now that’s my role,” he said. “I’m going to play it to the best of my abilities. We will soon eventually start. Right now, that’s what we accepted.”
Confidence has always been one of Norman’s chief characteristics, and he carries that optimism over to the Chants and new CCU head coach Joe Moglia.
“I think it’s going to be something special. I think it’s going to be really great,” Norman said. “… I feel the guys are [going] in a good direction. I’ve been talking to them lately, some of the guys, and they feel that the path in which coach Moglia is taking it is a good one. I trust in that, and we’re going to see tonight.”
Johnson stars on D
Speaking of Coastal cornerbacks …
Senior Dontavais Johnson was making the sixth start of his collegiate career as he turned in a hugely impressive first half Saturday while making his first three interceptions and delivering a clutch pass break-up in the end zone. Johnson is being counted on to help fill Norman’s void, and he acknowledged the former CCU standout’s influence on him after his breakout performance.
“Playing with Josh last year was very good. Watching him, how much he plays with passion [for] the game, I felt like I could step up and be that type of corner as well,” Johnson said. “He played a big impact.”
Fittingly, Johnson became the first Coastal player since Norman in 2009 to notch three picks in a game.
Duran breaks record
Sixth-year-senior David Duran set the Big South Conference record for all-time catches by a tight end when he hauled in his 60th career reception on a short grab midway through the second quarter.
Duran, a first-team all-conference pick as a sophomore and junior, was limited to just four games last season due to a torn rotator cuff. He was granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA and had a quiet return with two catches for three yards in his first game back after surgery.
Senior running back Marcus Whitener hobbled off the field with a knee injury in the first quarter and did not return. … Sophomore Alex Catron handled place-kicking duties and was perfect on two field goal tries (29 and 30 yards) and two extra point attempts. Catron had been listed behind junior Grant Clayton on the depth chart the team released after preseason camp. … Senior Tre Henderson’s 66-yard kickoff return Saturday was the fifth-longest in program history, and he now has two of those five returns on his resume.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.