Josh Norman believes in Josh Norman.
As I transcribe the tape of our interview, I laugh.
Youll read the quotes and think hes cocky. Or maybe you wont. Maybe youll think hes arrogant.
A rookie cornerback, Norman sometimes wears silver shoes with his Carolina Panthers uniform to practice. As rookies go, hes not meek.
Hes fun, hes entertaining and youd enjoy spending time with him. He smiles all the time. He makes you shake your head, makes you smile and, when the Panthers practice Thursday at Bank of America Stadium, hell make you watch.
Norman wears No. 24.
Its absolutely great, he says about his NFL gig. But you know, I always pictured myself being at this level. I always pushed myself that much harder. Because I have a lot of talent, obviously, but I also put a lot into it.
Norman is a fifth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina. He says Georgia was the only big school to recruit him. But Georgia had concerns about his SAT score, he says, and backed off, and he sat out a semester.
He enrolled at Coastal Carolina, where his brother Marrio, also a cornerback, played. Marrio now plays for the Arena Football Leagues Georgia Force.
Coastal Carolina offered Josh Norman a scholarship, and he became a star for the Chanticleers.
Any disadvantages to coming to the Panthers from a school outside Myrtle Beach instead of, say, South Carolina or Clemson?
Not any, says Norman. None. Zero.
After a pause, he adds: I would say there is something. People look at (players) from the lower schools and they kind of like, shy away from you a little bit. Oh, since hes not from a big school, hes kind of got a learning curve to get over. You know, sometimes there is a learning curve. But once you get it, its just like playing regular ball with regular guys.
We stand outside Bank of America Stadium after Carolinas first practice Wednesday. Norman is 6-foot and 190 pounds. If Panthers cornerbacks had a basketball team, hed be the center.
You see him walking down a sidewalk and think, athlete. You see him cover a receiver at practice and you think, athlete.
Norman is from Greenwood, S.C., and has dreadlocks. His former Greenwood High teammate, Panthers receiver Armanti Edwards, once had dreadlocks, too.
I ask Norman what Panthers fans can expect from him.
Oh, man, Norman says. That oomph! Im a turnover machine.
Carolina has had turnover machines. They played quarterback.
I get the ball back as quick as possible, Norman says. Every time Im out there, you know what, its going the other way, lets get the ball to Cam (Newton) and well score.
I ask how fast he runs the 40.
Best I ran was like a 4.4, says Norman. But none of that really matters. I just ran it because I had to. Its more game speed for me. I turn it up another notch.
His work has been noticed.
Josh Norman is really doing an exceptional job, says receiver Steve Smith. Hes always around the ball.
Norman remembers the first time he worked against Smith in practice.
Says Norman: I was like, Oh yeah, Im loving it, Im absolutely loving it. Going against the best brings the best out of you. You want to beat him. So obviously every nick, every turn, you want to stay right on him and see if you can match up with the best.
Think about it.
On one side of the line is Steve Smith, best player in Panthers history, veteran of 11 seasons, quick, fast, tough and famous, and he treats practice as if its a game.
On the other is Josh Norman, rookie, fifth-round pick.
They share one big trait.
Smith is a big deal. Norman played in the Big South.
You werent reluctant to go against Smith?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, says Norman. All the other guys are like, Ah, man, hes shifty. Whatever! Lets go. Im all for a challenge.
What happened? Who won? You stay with him the first time and all the other times?
Absolutely, man, says Norman.
What did Smith do?
Hed get frustrated, says Norman. Hed throw his hands in the air. Hed have a couple words.
You say anything?
Nah, says Norman. I really aint said nothing. Yet.