6-foot-8 Laker offensive tackle to suit up for Golden Gophers

Camdenton senior Grant Norton enjoys pushing people around on the gridiron.

Measuring in at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, it could be quite easy to understand why. But when the offensive tackle started looking for a new place to call home at the collegiate level, he was looking for more than just the opportunity to strap on a helmet and shoulder pads. He was considering life beyond football and that is what drew him to the University of Minnesota.

Norton verbally committed to the school on July 29, but he made it official on Wednesday as he put his name on the dotted line and signed his letter of intent to take the field for the Golden Gophers.

“It was just Coach (P.J.) Fleck’s energy. It is more than just football with him,” Norton stated. “It’s more what is afterwards, preparing you for life and giving you a plan for how you can live the next 40 years instead of the next four.

“Even though it might be cold,” Norton added with a smile about the school up North, “I have a lot of clothes.”

Then there was also Coach Fleck’s signature phrase “Row The Boat” where the ‘R’ stands for responsibility, the ’T’ stands for trust and the ’B’ stands for belief. The phrase came about after Fleck lost his second son to a heart condition in 2011.

“It’s a never-give-up mantra,” the coach explained to TwinCities.com.

As a Laker, Norton had the privilege of being one of “Pappy’s Hogs,” the group whose nickname created a sense of pride among Camdenton’s offensive and defensive lines under former longtime Assistant Coach Jim “Pappy” Pirch, who helped bring the program five state titles. As for Minnesota, “Row The Boat” was a message Norton could get behind.

“It is more of a good analogy of what energy you bring to your life in the responsibility, trust and belief you have in others and yourself,” the senior explained.

This opportunity is one the senior will not be taking for granted as he went on to note that the journey to signing day was by no means an easy one. Norton was willing to do what it took, but he also did not forget those who supported him every step of the way.

“It is definitely a blessing all-around,” he said of the opportunity in front of him. “It just took a lot of hard work, determination and just a lot of support from a lot of people, including my parents.”

But schools across the country soon started to take notice. Norton is listed as a three-star recruit on multiple recruiting websites and was given a scout grade of 75 on ESPN.com as the 13th overall ranked recruit in Missouri, 187th overall ranked recruit regionally and 93rd nationally at the offensive tackle position.

According to 247Sports.com, he also received interest from other schools such as Army, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Toledo, Central Florida, Western Illinois, Wisconsin and Wyoming and received scholarship offers from all but two of those programs.

Norton started to appear on Minnesota’s radar nearly a year ago through Hudl.com, a website that allows athletes to showcase their skills through highlights and stats with potential recruiters, friends and family. When he was invited to Minnesota’s Junior Day last February at the school and when he later attended a camp there on July 29, the senior knew he had found his home.

“They just continued to talk to me, found me through Hudl and basically we just got a connection and things ended up working out,” Norton recalled. “I came to camp, they liked what they saw, offered me there and I committed so now we are here at signing day.”

Norton, who will not be turning 18 years-old until about the time he arrives on campus, said he assumes he’ll be redshirted so he can spend the year adding weight, strength and experience. He certainly won’t mind, knowing what he’ll be facing in the Big Ten Conference.

“The Big Ten is the best competition in college football all-around,” the senior pointed out. “You have some of the biggest defensive tackles and some of the biggest defensive ends you have to go against. A lot of them are also fast.”

The future Golden Gopher also won’t mind doing his training in the new facility on campus.

“We got a new $166 million athletic complex, which is going to be a top-of-the-line facility. It is going to be nice to be able to excel there and have top-of-the-line equipment and apartments,” Norton said.

One individual who said Norton will fit right in is Camdenton coach Jeff Shore who noted that his former player has the physical attributes and right work ethic to utilize them.

“I think the number one thing is that they are getting a guy that still has a lot of room to grow age wise. He is a young guy as far as his physical age so he is only going to get bigger and grow into his body,” Shore noted. “He has great feet and moves so good. He is going to do a great job for them and I really honestly think that he is well-suited for the college game with his athletic ability and range.

“I am just super happy for him. It is a great opportunity and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Of course, Shore will certainly miss having a 6-foot-8 offensive tackle to protect his other players, but he will also miss Norton’s personality.

“All those guys that are my son’s age (Camdenton senior Bo Shore), I’ve known them forever. I’ll just miss him (Norton) in general and having him around,” the coach remarked. “Obviously, we’ll miss him as a football player and I wish we had him back one more year.

“With his age, he could almost be eligible for another year,” Shore said with a smile. “But like I said, it is a great gift for him and I’m just super excited for him.”

Norton is ready to take on the next chapter of his football career, but he will not quickly forget his time as a Laker. One thing he will certainly miss is the experience of playing beneath the lights on a Friday night at the “Jaws of Death,” otherwise known as Bob Shore Stadium.

“I’m really just going to miss running out, seeing the fireworks after we win and just the support from this town and community. It is wonderful,” he said.

At the same time, there were plenty of lessons he learned over the past four years at Camdenton and the senior also took some time to offer some parting words for his teammates that will take the field next fall.

“Just a lot of patience. Don’t take what people say into consideration, do what your mindset is and work until you get what you want,” the senior said.

“I want to wish those guys the best of luck. They definitely deserve it and they need to get after it this offseason. If they have a dream of doing something big, they need to pursue it. Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.”

Shore would certainly agree, noting that Wednesday’s signing just goes to show what a kid from the Lake of the Ozarks can be capable of with the right mindset and attitude.

“I think it is neat to see one of your guys get signed to a Big Ten Team. That is as good as it gets in college football,” he said. “Anything that brings attention to the Lakers is a cool thing for our kids and he (Norton) has done a good job of that. It is just a real positive all the way around.”

Norton intends to study marketing and business at Minnesota.