Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers CB Josh Norman becoming face of excellence

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman has four interceptions in four weeks – and an NFC Player of the Week award to go with September’s Player of the Month honor.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman has four interceptions in four weeks – and an NFC Player of the Week award to go with September’s Player of the Month honor. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman won another NFC award, joked about bribing the independent neurologist for linebacker Luke Kuechly with gummy bears and was moved to tears talking about the struggles he has overcome.

In other words, it was a normal Wednesday for one of the Panthers’ most interesting players.

Norman planned to celebrate his latest honor – the Defensive Player of the Week award that followed his two-interception game at Tampa Bay – by going to Boca Raton, Fla., with his brothers for the bye week.

Norman, who leads the league with four interceptions, does not expect the five-day break to cool off his torrid pace of one interception per game.

“My expectation level is very, very high,” Norman said Wednesday. “As long as the quarterback continues to throw the ball to the No. 1 receiver, I think my pace is awesome.”

His four interceptions – including two he has returned for touchdowns – are more than the totals of 20 teams.

Told that statistic, Norman said: “Wow, we’ve got more work to do. We’ve got to get more than 31.”

As long as the quarterback continues to throw the ball to the No. 1 receiver, I think my pace is awesome.

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman on having four interceptions in four games

As he does most days, Norman stayed on the practice field an extra 20 minutes catching passes thrown at all kind of weird angles. Then he spent another 16 minutes talking with reporters instead of rushing out the door to Boca.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera and others have noticed how much Norman likes the spotlight.

On Wednesday, Norman explained why: He minored in dramatic arts at Coastal Carolina, and would have majored in it but football practices kept getting in the way of the plays and rehearsals.

It was a question about Norman’s early years at Coastal that brought him to tears. After a sub-par academic showing at Greenwood (S.C.) High, Norman’s dreams of playing big-time college football went by the boards.

He didn’t qualify for Coastal, either, so he enrolled at a community college across the highway from Coastal’s campus in Conway and stayed in an apartment with his brother Mario, a defensive back for the Chanticleers.

“Man, that’s, whew. That’s pretty tough, man, to talk about,” Norman said as tears started to well in his eyes. “Yeah, that was crazy.”

Did he think it was the end of his football career?

“Nah, absolutely not. That was the struggle for me,” he said. “That was the defining moment of what I was going to become because I was staying on the couch at that time. For a minute I didn’t have a room or nothing.”

Norman, overcome with his emotion, politely asked to change the subject.

He’s a dog right there. He’s an animal. He’s the No. 1 guy. I just love playing with him. When we get him back, it’ll be even that much better.

Josh Norman, on the impending return of linebacker Luke Kuechly

He was funny and spoke from the heart on several other topics as well, including:

▪  Kuechly’s upcoming visit to the neurologist, whom Norman visited after sustaining a concussion in the preseason: “I gave him some gummy bears to give to the lady. And I know she’s listening. So I know you’re going to get them.”

▪  His thoughts on Kuechly: “Hopefully he’ll be back with us and just ball, because he’s a dog right there. He’s an animal. He’s the No. 1 guy. I just love playing with him. When we get him back, it’ll be even that much better.”

▪  His underdog mentality: “Coming out of high school I was an underdog. Even in college I had some things said about me. That was something I had to wear on my arm as a badge of honor, to the point where I got to the level where I overcame stuff. Even when I got into the NFL I had struggles and stuff I had to wear as a badge of honor to overcome.”

▪  The bond among the defensive backs: “Our group as a whole, we’re just loving up on each other. We’re giving out hugs instead of high fives because we’re loving up on each other that much.”

Norman spent a chunk of his first few years with the Panthers in the coaches’ doghouse. But head coach Ron Rivera said Norman deserves the awards and attention he’s receiving.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who fought with Norman during a training camp practice, said he’s not surprised by Norman’s success.

“Josh is bound to make the plays. Ever since he came here he’s had that big-play potential,” Newton said. “It’s just becoming a professional with a lot of time with (secondary) coach (Steve) Wilks and the DB coaches. They’ve helped him and polished his game so now when he performs on Sunday it’s just dress rehearsal.”

Norman gave up his acting aspirations in college but views the football field as a stage, not unlike the heroes in the gladiator movies he loves.

“Win the crowd,” Norman said, “you win the day.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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