As a junior in high school, LSU senior sprinter Vernon Norwood couldn’t have imagined lining up at the NCAA Championships. In fact, Norwood didn’t start running track until his junior year. His athletic career started on the basketball court where he was a standout, averaging 14 points per game during his career.
Norwood made the varsity team as a freshman at Morgan City High School in Morgan City, Louisiana, and he was starting by his sophomore year, during which he was named the team’s defensive Most Valuable Player. An integral part of the team’s success, Norwood became team captain his senior season.
“On the basketball court, people said I was pretty fast with my first step getting to the basket and driving to the goal,” Norwood said. “People said I should try to run track, so I gave it shot. I never took it seriously until my senior year when people told me I should try.”
When he realized earning a track scholarship was a possibility, Norwood began spending as much time on the track as he did on the basketball court.
His hard work paid off as he ran the second-fastest time of his career (46.6 seconds) in the 400-meter dash at the 2011 Louisiana LHSAA Outdoor State Championships, but he was disqualified for a lane violation. Norwood was upset with the result, but he was content when he learned he had the opportunity to run at South Plains College.
With the goal of moving up to Division I, Norwood participated at the NJCAA Outdoor Championships in both seasons at South Plains College. He ran on back-to-back 4x400-meter relay championship teams and narrowly missed out on the 400-meter dash championship, finishing in second place both seasons.
“It sucked, but that doesn’t hint at my success on the track,” Norwood said. “Being in second place just fueled me and humbled me to succeed more because I feel like success comes with failure. If you keep failing, eventually, something good is going to happen. I always try to motivate myself more every day.”
Norwood transferred to LSU his junior year and quickly proved he had the talent of a Division I athlete. The honors kept rolling in even against more talented competition. He was an All-American in four events in his inaugural season at LSU.
He continued his streak of winning 4x400-meter relay championships, this time at the 2014 NCAA Indoor
Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the team ran the fourth-fastest time in program history at 3:04.54. He added a second-place finish in the 400-meter dash.
Norwood also placed third in the 4x400-meter relay and 400-meter dash at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
“Vernon is a great competitor, and certainly, he zeroed in on some of his weaknesses, and he’s gotten much better at those,” said LSU track and field coach Dennis Shaver. “We’re extremely proud of the kind of focus, determination and training efforts that we get from him.”
Shaver said Norwood’s influence on the team happens on and off the track. He serves as a role model for the young runners with his work ethic in training and emphasis on getting an education.
“I definitely look up Vern,” said junior sprinter Cyril Grayson. “He has a good work ethic. He really is a different breed. He has the athletic ability, and he also works hard. I can’t take anything away from him, he deserves everything he gets.”
Norwood hopes to help LSU win its first indoor championship since 2004 at the 2015 NCAA Indoor Championships on March 13-14 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, running in the 400-meter dash and 4x400-meter relay.
You can reach Jacob Hamilton on Twitter @jhamilton_TDR.