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DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nathiel Norwood

Norwood stands out on stout defense

Photo by Jason Mussell
Lovejoy noseguard Nathiel Norwood had a team-leading 123.5 tackles and 41 tackles for losses for the three-time region champion Wildcats.

Photo by Jason Mussell Lovejoy noseguard Nathiel Norwood had a team-leading 123.5 tackles and 41 tackles for losses for the three-time region champion Wildcats.

HAMPTON — Ask anybody on the Lovejoy Wildcats Class AAAAAA runner-up football team who its defensive leader was and the answer would be unanimous.

Nathaniel Norwood.

Nathiel Norwood By The Numbers

123.5

tackles

41

tackles for loss

16.5

sacks

That’s why, as far as Lovejoy coach Al Hughes is concerned, Norwood’s selection as the 2012 Clayton News Daily defensive player of the year was a no-brainer.

“Nathaniel has unquestionably been the heart and soul of this defense,” Hughes said. “He anchored that line and he does it giving up at least 40 or 50 pounds to the opposing offensive linemen.”

Indeed, listed generously at 6 feet 1, 190 pounds, Norwood is slight as traditional defensive tackles go. But that’s only in his physical stature. Hughes said Norwood has learned how to play every down like its his last. And he’s got the stats to prove it.

In 2012, the senior registered 123.5 tackles, including 41 for losses of 230 yards. His 16.5 sacks led one of the state’s best defenses. And when he wasn’t taking down opposing quarterbacks, his 63 hurries showed his ability to live in the backfield, rushing signal callers into bad decisions.

Norwood said his four years with Hughes at Lovejoy taught him a relentless determination that he’s not so sure he’d have had elsewhere.

“These last four years, it’s been crazy,” Norwood said. “I came from middle school, where I didn’t really get to start much. But I came here and became a better player. I’ve gotten humble. I’ve got a motor now that I didn’t have playing rec ball and at Lovejoy Middle.”

Norwood led a defensive unit that surrendered just 10 points a game in Georgia’s highest class of competition. He helped Lovejoy to become the first Clayton County team to make consecutive state championship games.

The Jacksonville State commitment said getting over that latest title-game loss has been tough, but it hasn’t diminished the success that he has achieved with his teammates this year.

“(The Norcross game) was tough,” Norwood said. “There hasn’t been a day we haven’t thought about it since it happened. But it feels good to get an award like this and be called the best in the county. It feels great because it shows that all my hard work in the summer and all year is paying off.”

Norwood went back to the Georgia Dome — the site of Lovejoy’s two state-title losses — for the East-West all-star game on Saturday. And while returning to the place of heartbreak was tough to do, Norwood sounded like someone who was starting to put the past behind him and begin looking toward his future.

“It’s crazy going back there so soon after the loss,” he said. “But these all-star games are helping me get ready for what’s ahead of me.”