New city, new team, new jersey, but some things never change for former Ohio State offensive lineman Andrew Norwell.
“The flow’s still going,” Norwell said. “It’s been five years since I’ve had a full haircut.”
Norwell wrapped up his career at OSU in 2013 before setting his sights on the next level. He is currently an offensive guard for the Carolina Panthers and played in 10 games with nine starts in the 2014 season.
It was not an easy journey for Norwell, who wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and ultimately went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft before signing with the Panthers as a rookie free-agent.
“Basically I worked my way up through the ladder to make the team,” Norwell said. “I just went out every day and I worked hard and coaches really liked my toughness and my physicality.”
It helps that the big guy — he has a 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame — has a big support system behind him at home.
His older brother, Chris Norwell, has had a big influence on him, he said, because he traveled a similar path. His brother played for the University of Illinois before signing with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2008.
“I already went through the process of being an undrafted free agent in the NFL, so I kind of had some experience there,” Chris Norwell said.
Andrew Norwell said that put less pressure on him going in undrafted.
“I didn’t have to impress anybody … I just played football, what I’ve been doing all my life,” he said.
The long-haired guard might not have felt pressure, but he knew he would need to work to make the final cut, something his brother reminded him of often.
“He really had to prove himself to be worthy of a roster spot because in the NFL, that’s really hard,” Chris Norwell said.
The former OSU lineman didn’t know exactly how to describe the feeling of making an NFL team.
“They pulled me aside and they said I made it, I made the team,” he said. “It was just unbelievable. I’m on an NFL active roster. Words can’t explain that.”
Andrew Norwell was inactive for the first six weeks of the season before making his NFL debut in Green Bay on Oct. 19, when Trai Turner was injured in the first quarter.
“My O-line coach said, ‘All right, get in there.’ I ran on the field and basically took advantage of the opportunity … and I never got taken off the field since I was put in that day,” Andrew Norwell said.
He said he knew whichever team he went to he would make a difference, and he did. In his first win as an NFL starter on Dec. 7 in New Orleans, he cleared the way for the Panthers’ offense to accumulate 497 total yards, including 271 rushing yards, the third-highest in team history.
The lineman’s success was not surprising to his brother.
“He didn’t feel bad for himself. He prepared well each week, getting himself ready for his opportunity,” Chris Norwell said.
Chris Norwell said he was able to see his brother’s hard work pay off in person during the NFC Wild Card game on Jan. 3.
“It was just a really cool experience to see your little brother playing at the biggest stage possible,” he said.
Although that “little brother” is still adjusting to the NFL, there were many differences from college football he had to get used to, he said.
“The speed is one thing but the guys in general are way better. Everybody’s an all-star,” Andrew Norwell said. “You got to prove every day … You got to be perfect every day.”
Another big difference is what the guys are playing for, he added.
“With me working for a spot, you’re trying to take somebody’s livelihood away and they take it really seriously,” he said.
It’s a “high-pressure, high-performance job” and there are many changes to get used to, the Carolina Panther said, but he believes OSU prepared him well.
“We had a coaching change here when I was in college, different play book and I think that helped me out a lot. (Coach Urban Meyer’s) program definitely prepared me for the next level,” he said.
Meyer’s arrival before Andrew Norwell’s junior season wasn’t the only way the Buckeyes prepared him for the NFL; the fans helped, too, he said.
“NFL fans are great. They really take pride in their team and want to see the guys be successful just like here at Ohio State,” Andrew Norwell said.
With his first NFL season under his belt, Andrew Norwell isn’t taking a break, and said he’s looking forward to next season.
“Last year around this time, I didn’t know where I was going,” he said. “This year I’m just training, working out, getting ready to go back down to Charlotte again.”