Earlier this football season, El Camino Junior College wide receivers coach Kevin Norrell looked out onto the practice field. Standing on the sideline instead of in uniform made him miss something: playing the sport he loves.
“Come on coach, you’ve got to get back out there,” the 25-year-old Norrell, a Stony Brook football alumnus, recalls his players saying to him. “[You’ve] got to get back right.”
Growing up, Norrell was no stranger to the idea of “right.”
His godfather is Charlie Collins, a former player in the Canadian Football League and wide receivers coach in the National Football League for the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals.
When he would train some of his clients during the offseason—including the likes of All-Pro players Chad Johnson, Steve Smith and Pro Bowler Desean Jackson—Collins invited Norrell to tag along. During the summer between Norrell’s high school graduation and college, he got quite the change in workout partners.
“The biggest thing I learned from them is the constant work you must put in, especially in the NFL where guys every year are training to take your job,” Norrell said. “It also gave me the confidence that I needed, because I was going against the best at an early age and really held my own.”
That was when “right” turned wrong.
Norrell had a solid freshman campaign at Washington State, playing in all 13 games for the Pac-12 school. He totaled 420 yards, including special teams, before getting arrested on the morning of Sept. 7 and charged with driving under the influence, according to multiple media reports. Norrell was dismissed from the team for the season the next day. He made the decision to leave the school altogether.
“I chose to leave because I wanted a fresh start,” Norrell said. “That experience taught me just to make smart decisions, period. As a worker it made me work extremely hard, because in a sense, I was starting over going back to the junior college way.”
After joining El Camino’s team the following season—stepping down from a Power Five football conference to a junior college—Norrell caught 23 balls for 419 yards and a touchdown and earned himself another shot. He transferred once again, this time to Stony Brook.
It was one more chance to “get right.” That is exactly what he did.
During his senior year with the Seawolves, Norrell’s second at the school, the wideout recorded one of the best statistical seasons in not only school history, but Big South Conference history.
Even today, he is still the only Stony Brook wide receiver to ever tally over 1,000 yards in a season. Norrell caught 66 passes for 1,388 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012.
“He was an amazing teammate,” former teammate and former NFL player Michael Bamiro said. “He was always positive on the bench during games and he gave 100 percent effort each and every day.”
That effort led to a dream come true: Norrell was signed by the Buffalo Bills as a free agent.
“It was a very exciting time in my life,” Norrell said in an interview with The Statesman in March. “Something that I worked for since I was five.”
Norrell was cut at the end of training camp, but his dreams never faded. He still wants one more shot.
Norrell was tipped off about a new spring football league, Major League Football, which is starting this coming spring under the guidance of four-time NFL Pro Bowler Wes Chandler.
Norrell expects the league to bloom into football’s minor leagues, much like the National Basketball Association’s Development League.
“It’s going to be exciting, actually,” Norrell said. “I’m really open to anything, the only thing I care about is to be back out there running routes and just making plays. That’s one thing I miss, is just making plays.”
Former Stony Brook star running back Miguel Maysonet went over a year without being in the NFL, so in Norrell’s eyes, it is all about quietly waiting for that next shot and being prepared to take it. According to El Camino’s offensive coordinator Eugene Engle, Norrell has the tools that he needs to reach his goals.
“He is also a very hard worker,” Engle said after touting Norrell’s knowledge of the game and enthusiasm. “He gets here early almost everyday and he will stay after practice to work with the receivers.”
A former Sports Network/Fathead.com second team All-American and first team All-Big South member, Norrell is not just watching his current players in California from the sideline.
“I’m still lifting with them, running with them, showing them how they should run their routes,” he said. “They are just so receptive to that and it’s amazing to see. It’s not like I’m sitting there, I’m really running around, so I’m still doing things.”
More than anything, Norrell is happy to be around the sport. A couple of days before Stony Brook’s Homecoming, he lugged multiple Stony Brook football sweatshirts and sweatpants around campus, slung over his shoulder, along with a beanie hat—gifts from his former team. Norrell was simply smiling.
Walking into Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium with the marching band practicing on the field, his eyes lit up. Not only did he miss Stony Brook, but being back reminded him of his playing days.
“I watch my guys run around and I’m like, ‘man, I really do miss this,” Norrell said. “Everything is really starting to come around and starting to get back in line. So this is really exciting. It’s an exciting time right now.”
Norrell is “right” again, and it is time for him to take his last chance.
“I know I can easily [make it] if my body was healthy and everything,” Norrell said. “There’s no doubt in my mind, not even for a second, that I can do that.”