Carolina Panthers left guard Andrew Norwell was born in 1991, a year after the Reds’ “Nasty Boys” trio of relievers brought a World Series title to Norwell’s Cincinnati hometown.
Different sport, different era – but Norwell is making nasty cool again.
When Panthers tackle Daryl Williams used the adjective to describe Norwell this week, Williams meant it as a term of endearment for the 6-6, 325-pound lineman with long hair and permanent snarl.
“He just goes hard, man,” Williams said, laughing. “He’s definitely like an inspiration, just watching him. He’s very physical and tough and nasty. I’m glad he’s my teammate.”
Norwell is beginning his fourth season as the Panthers’ starter at left guard, and was the team’s highest-rated lineman last season by Pro Football Focus.
Despite his consistency – Norwell was the Panthers’ only offensive lineman to start all 16 games in 2016 at his original position – Norwell might be the least known among the five guys up front.
He’s not real vocal in the locker room, happy to let Pro Bowlers Ryan Kalil and Trai Turner handle most of the media interviews for the line.
Norwell saves his voice for practices and games. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton nicknamed the undrafted free agent from Ohio State “All-yell Norwell” early in his career because of the screaming Norwell does to get himself and his teammates revved up.
Norwell was in full “All-yell Norwell” mode last week for an Oklahoma drill that defensive end Charles Johnson wanted no part of – payback for the would-be matchup between defensive end Julius Peppers and tight end Greg Olsen earlier in camp that Olsen jokingly backed out of.
Norwell approved of Williams’ “nasty” description of him, though did so without cracking a smile.
“I love it. That’s what I’m about,” he said. “Every play I do my best – four to six seconds of relentless effort every play.”
Norwell said he developed his lunch-pail work ethic and a bit of a mean streak from his two older brothers.
Adam Norwell played basketball at Northern Kentucky from 1997 to 2001, and Chris Norwell was a defensive lineman at Illinois who signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2008.
The older brothers showed Norwell some tough love in the Cincinnati suburbs, like the time Andrew needed to drop a few pounds to make the weight limit for his pee-wee league.
Norwell, the youngest of seven siblings, jogged through the neighborhood while his brothers followed him – perhaps a little too closely – in a Jeep.
“I was trying to run away from them,” he said. “(They were) trying to make me run to lose weight when I was a little kid.”
He made the weight.
‘He’s a little off – in a good way’
Adam Norwell remembers his youngest brother visiting him at Northern Kentucky, when Norwell was a feisty 5-year-old.
“He came to the dorm. We used to wrestle with him. He’d want to knock your head off at 5 years old,” Adam Norwell said. “He was always big. Massive. And he was a pretty good athlete.”
Those experiences helped shape Norwell, who turned his toughness and power into two all-Big Ten Conference selections at Ohio State.
“I really admired the older players before me. I learned that from my brothers,” Norwell said. “My brothers used to beat up on me all the time. I just like to play mean and tough. Going into Year 4, I’m playing smarter, too.”
Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson wasn’t sure what to make of Norwell when he joined the Panthers in 2014.
“He’s a little off – in a good way,” Anderson said Wednesday.
Anderson remembers ducking into the offensive huddle and talking a little good-natured trash to the second-team linemen.
Norwell glared at him.
“He’d kind of look at me like, ‘Don’t call me that,’” Anderson recalled.
Anderson explained that he was joking and just trying to pick up the energy level.
“It took him a little while and he was kind of, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!’” Anderson said. “And then he starts yelling. And I’m like, ‘Is this guy all right?’
“He’s a football player. Obviously he’s very smart to be able to pick up the things that (offensive line coach John) Matsko puts on those guys’ plate. But he’s very physically gifted and very passionate about what he does.”
Nasty, not dirty
For all his intensity, Norwell says he doesn’t cross the line between nasty and dirty.
“You’ve just got to finish on the whistle and use your techniques,” he said. “I’ve never thrown punches or anything like that in a game.”
That includes any funny business at the bottom of the pile. “That’s not me,” Norwell said.
Adam Norwell said his brother is a softy off the field.
“He’s got all these nephews and nieces, he’s a big giant. Gentle giant, we call him,” the older Norwell said. “But when he’s on this field you’ve got to be able to turn it on and off.”
As a restricted free agent this past winter, Norwell, 25, received a second-round tender worth $2.75 million this season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in March, and says he hopes to stay with the Panthers.
Turner, the two-time Pro Bowler, signed a four-year, $45 million extension with the Panthers in June. Whether Norwell commands that type of money remains to be seen.
But either way it will be a substantial pay raise for the Panthers’ resident Nasty Boy.
“I love this game. It doesn’t really matter how much money I’m gonna make,” Norwell said. “I just love doing it as a job. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”