The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 173 to the 29-yard line. "I was thinking, 'Don't drop the ball.' That was my main thing when I walked out there. Just hold onto the ball. "I got a lot of confidence from the fact that the coaches decided to put me out there. That helped me believe I was ready, because they trusted me to put me out there in the first game." Entering his third year in Ann Arbor, Nor- fleet is excelling as much in the classroom as he is on the football field. He says that, since he began playing football as a 9-year-old, this is the best he has felt about his progress, both athletically and academically. After facing his own problems, Norfleet gravitated toward teaching. He is on track to graduate with a major in education and a minor in English, and he volunteers at local middle schools to try and steer troubled kids in the right direction. "I tell them that I have had some of the same experiences and problems they're go- ing through now, not knowing how to read, having a disability," Norfleet said. "Now that I can explain that to kids, they listen to me." Norfleet has an 8-month-old daughter whom he FaceTimes with before every game. He has pledged the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He hopes to take over the Wolver- ines' punt returning responsibilities and find an expanded role as a slot receiver in new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's system. And he is biding his time until his first touchdown comes — hopefully during his favorite play of the game, the kickoff return. But mostly, Norfleet is just having fun — and appreciating his newfound outlook on life, one that he hopes to share and inspire other people in similar positions to achieve their dreams. "My journey is a big turnaround," he said. "When I came in, I thought, 'I am just here for football.' I have felt the change in myself. I have a daughter, and I'm going to make her and her mother happy. And I have my team- mates who have been with me since I got here, and they never gave up on me, so why should I give up or disrespect them? With their help, I have become a better person and grown. Now, there are players coming in who are looking up to me. "I have grown a lot. My attitude changed. I love it here. It's amazing." ❏ Following In The Footsteps Of … Jamie Morris Why Morris: For this comparison to work, set aside Morris' offensive exploits — from 1984-87, he rushed for a then-program re- cord 4,526 career yards and 25 touchdowns on 806 carries — and just focus on what he did as a kick returner. Morris, like Norfleet, was pegged as the Wolverines' kick returner from the moment he stepped on campus, returning one kick for 23 yards in Michigan's season-opening win over Miami in 1984. Morris (a smallish 5-7, 183, like Norfleet) was the Wolverines' primary kick returner for most of the next four seasons (he took only eight kick returns as a senior, focusing more on offense than special teams). While he never broke the big one and scored a touchdown, Morris was a consis- tent kick returner, averaging 20.1 yards on 51 career returns, which ranks No. 21 in pro- gram history among players that have tal- lied at least 20 kick returns. What it could mean: Michigan fans have been predicting a Nor fleet kick return touchdown since he first stepped on the field against Alabama in the first game of his freshman year. Although some have grown impatient with his lack of "the big one," Norfleet has consistently put the Wolverines in a good position, averaging 23.5 yards per return, which currently ranks No. 8 in Michigan pro- gram history. Morris is never remembered for his kick returning prowess, most likely because he never took one back all the way. And, although Nor fleet still has two seasons to break through, what he has accom- plished thus far should not be diminished by the fact that he hasn't put one up on the scoreboard. Every time he advances past the 25-yard line (where the ball is marked for a touch- back), it should be counted as a small victory — and, more often than not, he is doing that every time he steps on the field. Overall: Unless Norfleet reaches the end zone, he might not be remembered along- side Steve Breaston (2003-06) and Desmond Howard (1989-91) as one of the best kick re- turners in program history. But the fact is, he is on pace to end his career with 3,530 return yards. The current program record for career kick return yards was set by Breaston with 1,993 yards, more than 1,500 yards fewer than Norfleet's projected yardage based on his first two years of work. — Andy Reid Norfleet's career average of 23.5 yards per return ranks eighth in school history among players with at least 20 attempts. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN 170-173.Dennis Norfleet.indd 173 6/19/14 2:17 PM

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