Physical Norton embraces challenge of offensive line

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Chad MorrisChad Morris
Offensive Coordinator / QBs
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wants offensive linemen with bite, and he has found one in backup center Ryan NortonRyan Norton
RS Fr. Offensive Line
#58 6-3, 270
Mauldin, SC

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Morris said repeatedly last season that if linemen don’t “bite as puppies, then they won’t bite when they’re big dogs” and has said his focus has been on finding offensive linemen with the right kind of nasty attitude.

Norton, a redshirt freshman out of Mauldin High School, calls it controlled aggression.

“You really have to keep yourself under control, especially when you are a center,” Norton said this week. “Before the ball is snapped, you have to make sure you are doing everything the right way. But once the ball is snapped and you get your hands on someone, then you can rough them up and knock them around a little bit.”

Norton saw the first action of his Clemson career last Saturday, and was able to partake is some of the rough stuff he likes.

“There was one play,” Norton said with a smile. “I probably haven’t chop blocked since high school. But I down-blocked on a defensive end as he was running back to the play and I just whipped his knees right out from underneath him. That was a good play. And then there are plays where a defensive lineman might be locked up with a guard or a tackle, and I’m free, and you can just turn and lay them out and give them a little bit of a surprise.”

Despite his rough demeanor once the ball is snapped, Norton said he tries to find balance before the game by listening to classical music.

“I try to keep my cool – a lot,” Norton said. “I get really pumped up when it comes to game time. I listen to mellow music, classical stuff, to calm myself down. Once the ball’s snapped I like to get a little aggressive.”

Norton was a special case a year ago, traveling with the team and dressing out for all the games, ready in case he was needed by the coaches. That never happened, and Norton was able to save a year of eligibility by red-shirting, something he says has helped him mature.

“That experience helped me out a ton,” he said. “I got to learn how to act, traveling-wise, preparing for a game. It was tough last year, dressing out, preparing all week, knowing for a fact that you’re not going to play, but that’s what the first year is all about.”

Starting center Dalton FreemanDalton Freeman
Gr. Center
#55 6-5, 265
Pelion, SC

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battled an illness for part of fall camp, and right tackle Giff Timothy tore the meniscus in his right knee, allowing Norton to see plenty of snaps with the first team.

“That helped me out a ton,” Norton said. “Going against Josh WatsonJosh Watson
RS So. Defensive Tackle
#91 6-4, 285
Wilmington, DE

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, Grady [Jarrett] and DeShawn WilliamsDeShawn Williams
So. Defensive Tackle
#99 6-1, 285
Central, SC

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. They were really quick and helped me get a feel for everyone else and what I’m supposed to do. They put a lot of pressure on me.”

That added experience has helped him play the way he likes – aggressive.

“When I play, I play really aggressive,” he said. “I try to increase the intensity on the offensive line, and get everyone else hyped up beforehand. But playing center, you have to be calm with snapping the ball and being able to tell everyone what to do. What makes the offensive line so great, is being able to take someone from point A to point B against their will.”

Norton said that offensive line is the one place that scouts can’t measure many of the intangibles that make for great offensive linemen, and why so many can’t-miss prospects actually wind up not being a factor.

“You can take a big guy with all the athletic talent in the world, but if he doesn’t have that aggressive mindset, he isn’t going to be a good offensive lineman,” he said. “You can take a guy that might be a bit smaller, but if he has the right mentality, you can turn him into a good player. I believe this game needs to be played with a tough edge, always have a chip on your shoulder. I’ve believed that since I started playing and I believe you can’t play this game unless you play it aggressively.”

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