The 5' 10" Norwood might not have played for Penn State if the boss hadn't liked him so much. " Joe Paterno came into a staff meeting [during Norwood's senior year of high school] and said, 'We're taking him,' " McQueary says of the decision to offer Norwood a scholarship. "I'll be frank, and Jordan knows this, I don't know if any of us were crazy about taking him. We knew he was a heck of a basketball player and the whole nine yards. But we just had not thought about him as a football player."
Norwood, whose father, Brian, was the safeties coach for Penn State from 2001 to '07, had played point guard for the State College Area High School basketball team that won the Pennsylvania Class AAAA title his junior year and saw more playing time as a defensive back than as a wide receiver during his senior football season because of a broken thumb. The Nittany Lions asked him to grayshirt, meaning he waited to enroll as a full-time student until January '05 when there would be a scholarship available (and so he could put weight on his 150-pound frame).
Because he has a September birthday, Norwood was always one of the youngest students in his class, so the notion of grayshirting appealed to his parents. During the fall of '04 he gained 10 to 12 pounds from eating right and lifting (and has since packed on a few more). "I've worked hard to get to this 170 pounds," he says with a laugh.
His dad, who took the defensive coordinator's job at Baylor University last December, says that after his son started four games, caught 32 passes for 422 yards and averaged 13.2 yards per catch as a freshman, people came up to Brian to apologize for thinking he was only on the team because his dad was a coach. "I had people in the football world there at Penn State say, 'Hey, I'm sorry, we didn't know he was going to be as good as he was,' " says Brian, who played defensive back for the University of Hawaii from 1983 to '87.
All three of Jordan's brothers play sports, and his sister dances competitively. His mother, Tiffiney, rues the day she agreed to let Gabe and Jordan, her two oldest children, play peewee football. "I thought, Who in the world would like getting hit? Let them see what it's like," says Tiffiney, who admits she still holds her breath every time her son takes the field. "They just fell in love [with football]. It kind of backfired on me." Gabe ended up playing basketball for George Mason University and was part of the team that made it to the 2006 Final Four. Jordan played basketball for a season during his sophomore year at Penn State but saw only seven minutes of playing time in four games. His mom and younger siblings were at home watching a Big Ten foe beat up on the Nittany Lions when Jordan entered the game. "We were jumping up and down, shouting, 'He fouled someone! He's in the stat book!' " recalls Tiffiney. "I think we're more of a basketball family, believe it or not. I had missed seeing [Jordan] play basketball."
Norwood thinks spending the off-season on the basketball court helped him stay in shape, and possibly even increased his speed last year, but says it was a joint decision between him and the coaching staff to sit out the 2007-08 season to focus on football.
"He adjusted to a lot of things," says Brian. "The grayshirt [year] is not always a pretty thing. You can't practice, you can't eat at the training table. There are a lot of times when kids who are grayshirted can get sort of lost in the whole buildup and hype because you're really not coming in with a recruiting class and you're really not being talked about a lot." The initial lack of recognition didn't bother the media-shy Norwood, who has since started 16 games and averaged 39 catches per season.
"We just didn't think of it," says McQueary of recruiting Norwood. "With Jordan, you weren't quite sure. But, boy, we should have thought of it."
FEW DIVISION I SCHOOLS FAILED TO THINK OF recruiting Derrick Williams. Hailed as a Top 10 recruit entering his senior year, he was named the top prospect in the country by Rivals.com after he ran for 1,123 yards and 12 touchdowns, passed for 972 yards and 13 TDs, and scored an additional two touchdowns in his final season at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md. By the time he committed to Penn State, in December 2004, he had received more than 50 Division I scholarship offers.
He excelled at football and in the classroom, where he had a 4.0 GPA the second semester of his junior year, making him an even more appealing prospect. "We were getting so many letters about him going to different schools," says his father, Dwight.