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Vol. LXIII, No. 36
 
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
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Using Versatility to Carve Out NFL Career, PU Alum Norman Back at OL for Jaguars

Ed Benkin

It isn’t easy staying in the NFL for nearly a decade. It’s even harder when you’re a low-round draft pick out of Princeton University.

But Dennis Norman has beaten the odds.

In 2001, Norman was drafted in the seventh round by the Seattle Seahawks. Today, Norman, 29, is still in the NFL and is a valuable reserve for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

When Norman first entered the NFL, he knew versatility would be the key to longevity. As an offensive lineman, Norman can play several different positions and has earned the respect of his coaches and teammates alike.

“I had to be versatile,” said the 6’5, 313-pound Norman, a native of Marlton, N.J. who will hit the field with the Jaguars this Sunday when they open their season with a game at Indianapolis.

“When you come in as a low-round draft pick and you don’t start, you have to find a role for yourself. I’ve been blessed with the ability to do multiple things, and I think it’s helped.”

Norman’s versatility was never more valuable than last season. A rash of injuries to the Jacksonville offensive line forced Norman into the starting lineup. He started 14 of Jacksonville’s 16 games last season and became one of the team’s top performers in the trenches.

“I’ve definitely been blessed,” maintained Norman. “I’ve had good opportunities to play. When I’ve had the chance, I’ve been ready, and I’m still here. I’ve been blessed.”

Norman is quick to credit his Princeton experience for his success in the NFL. While the Ivy League doesn’t produce the same number of pros as Division I schools, Norman believes the atmosphere on and off the field at Old Nassau made a tremendous impact in his football career.

“Princeton is a really competitive place,” Norman said. “It takes a lot of focus there. It’s the same in the NFL, but it’s on the physical level.”

Soon after arriving at Princeton in 1997, Norman realized that it took a special person to balance football and academics at one of the most prestigious schools in the country.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” said Norman. “There aren’t too many guys that can do it. There are a lot of guys that came in and started playing football, then stopped after a while. It’s definitely a testament to hard work and dedication.”

Norman’s career at Princeton got off to a slow start during his freshman season. He was forced to sit out the 1997 campaign because of a broken leg, but the coaches couldn’t get Norman off the field when he returned. He started 26 of 29 games over the next three years and became one of the top linemen in the Ivy League.

The Tiger program went through a transitional phase during Norman’s college career. He played for head coach Steve Tosches during his first three seasons before Roger Hughes took over the program in 2000.

Norman has great respect for both coaches and was happy to be a part of the beginning of Hughes’ tenure at Princeton.

“It was great,” Norman said. “It was new and it was fresh. Coach Tosches was a very good coach, but Coach Hughes came in and brought a lot of great coaches with him. My offensive line coach there played in the NFL, so he helped us grow a lot in my last year.”

By the spring of 2001, Norman had grown into an NFL draft pick as he was chosen by the Seahawks.

He saw limited action in his time with Seattle but learned from players such as All-Pro tackle Walter Jones.

“Seattle was great,” said Norman. “I played behind some really good guys. It helped me prepare to see how those guys worked and how they operated in the NFL. When I got to Jacksonville, I got the opportunity to play and I was ready.”

After being released by Seattle during the 2004 season, he was signed by the Jaguars in the final month of the season. Five years later, Norman is still with Jacksonville.

While Norman is not projected to start this season, he’ll likely find his way on the field once again. He’s also hoping he can help his team bounce back from last year’s 5-11 season.

“We had a really nice camp,” Norman said. “We’re definitely growing. I think we have a team full of hard workers who are dedicated and focused. Everybody is buying in this year and I think that’s going to make a difference.”

Norman isn’t planning on ending his NFL career anytime soon. When the end finally comes, Norman is looking forward to coming back to his alma mater.

“I try to get home at least once a year,” Norman said. “I look forward to the day when I can come back, sit in the stands, and root the guys on.”

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