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February 27, 2013

Norman passes on fifth year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt running back Warren Norman, a redshirt junior, announced at a Wednesday press conference that he will not return for his senior season.

Norman, a native of Stone Mountain, Ga., carried just 21 times for 75 yards last season after missing the last part of the 2010 season, and all of 2011, with injuries. He returned last year to carry the ball 21 times for 75 yards, and with the graduation of the school's all-time leading rusher, Zac Stacy, there was opportunity for someone to seize playing time next fall.

But Norman, who said he'd never gotten to better than "60 or 70 percent" of what he once was, instead decided to hang up the cleats.

"As everybody knows, I've been battling knee injuries the last three years or so. After talking to my family and the staff, I've decided to forego my senior season," he said.

It was a sad ending to what should have been a great career for the Southeastern Conference's 2009 Freshman of the Year.

Norman was one of the few bright spots on the 2009 squad that finished 2-10, as he carried 145 times (5.4 yards per carry) and scored three times. He was a star on kickoff returns, as he ran three of his 40 attempts back for 1,050 yards (26.2 yards per return) and three scores.

With those marks, Norman broke the SEC's single-season all-purpose yardage record for a freshman formerly held by Herschel Walker, and also set the league's single-season kickoff return mark. He earned several freshman All-American honors as a kickoff returner.

Norman actually improved his per-rush average to 6.0 as a sophomore (77 rushes, 459 yards) and ran 22 kickoffs back for a 25.4-yard average. But he dislocated his wrist in the Arkansas game that fall, and lingering knee issues (he said he couldn't pinpoint a game where the problems started) forced him out of the last four games.

That was the beginning of the end. The VU staff hoped that Norman would be available for 2011, but it didn't happen.

Norman returned for 2012, but failed to move far up the depth chart in August practices. When Norman played sparingly in 2012 during mop-up time in blowouts, it was clear that he lacked the play-making ability he once had. Even against inferior defenses, he averaged just 3.6 yards per rush.

His coach, James Franklin, added that there was another undisclosed surgery later in Norman's career after the original wrist and knee surgeries.

Norman seemed at peace with the decision, but said that he'd had a tough time coming to grips with the end of his career.

"I love playing football, and coming to terms that I won't be playing again wasn't easy, but that's why you come to Vanderbilt. Just knowing I have something to fall back on, knowing I'm getting a world-class education, made it easier," Norman said.

Norman plans to study abroad this May. He'll graduate in the fall with a degree in sociology, but his coach hopes his stay at Vanderbilt will last beyond that.

"We're hoping he might fall in love with coaching and keep him around a little bit longer," Franklin said with a smile on Wednesday.


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