Cover story | Andrew Norwell
Crazy, in a good way
He slept through the beginning of the Urban Meyer era (oops), but Andrew Norwell and his outsize personality provide a nasty anchor for the offensive line and a hairy matchup for opponents
Andrew Norwell had set his alarm clock, but it didn’t help.
It was Jan. 3, 2013, the morning after an uninspired loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl. More important, it was the day that Ohio State players had their first team meeting with coach Urban Meyer, scheduled to begin at 7 a.m.
“We got back late from the Gator Bowl, and I just overslept,” Norwell said. “My alarm was going off for an hour and a half, and I woke up late.”
When he finally did arise, he frantically rushed to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to try to apologize to the new coaching staff, but he arrived too late. After attending classes, he went to Meyer’s office.
“He was very serious about it,” Norwell said. “He said, ‘You missed my first team meeting. Don’t let it ever happen again.’”
Norwell didn’t. And he had plenty of time to think about it over the next three days, which he spent cleaning the weight room with other tardy or absent teammates as punishment to drive home Meyer’s message.
“I was in the doghouse right away,” he said. “It was a bad first impression.”
The stay proved temporary. Now the senior left guard from Cincinnati is an integral part of an offensive line that has been the foundation of Ohio State’s success this season. And that’s not to mention Norwell is one of the biggest characters on the team.
With his bushy beard and overflowing curly hair, Norwell would stand out even if he wasn’t 6 feet 6 and 316 pounds. The last time he had a haircut was the summer of 2010.
“I always liked my hair long,” Norwell said. “I grew it out in elementary school and then cut it. I just like the look. It comes out the back of your helmet.”
The hair now comes down almost to the middle of his back, giving him a look that says, “Don’t mess with me.”
He likes that. When he’s on the field, it’s to win games, not make friends. Left tackle Jack Mewhort, a close friend, said affectionately that Norwell has “just a touch of insanity to him.”
Norwell laughed when he heard that.
“You just have to be mean on the field,” he said. “You can’t let anybody beat you. You have to have that mentality. You’re playing for the name on the back of your jersey. You want to represent your family well. You want to play hard for them and do whatever you have to get the job done.”
Norwell is just as offbeat off the field. He created an alter ego for himself — the Great White Buffalo. Norwell said it came from the combination of a Western movie he watched with his dad and a Ted Nugent song of the same name.
“I call the O-line, ‘The Water Buffaloes,’” Norwell said. “If we’re getting water, I say, ‘The Water Buffaloes are at the watering hole.’”
Center Corey Linsley described Norwell as a wild card: Usually, he’s quiet, but there’s always the possibility of the unexpected. Norwell acknowledges that he’s a prankster.
Sometimes, Linsley said, Norwell will sneak up behind an unsuspecting, shivering teammate in the cold tub and “baptize” him by dunking the poor guy’s head in the water.
Norwell’s brother, Chris, said that Andrew tends to be reserved around people until he gets to know them. Then his true personality comes out.
“He can be a little bit of a wacko once he gets comfortable with people he’s around,” Chris said, chuckling. “He definitely has a good personality, a good sense of humor. He can turn it on and off pretty well.”
Andrew is the youngest of Ivar and Julia Norwell’s seven children. His oldest sibling, Ingrid, is 42. Chris, who’s the second-youngest, is six years older than Andrew.
His other brother Adam played basketball at Northern Kentucky. Chris played defensive tackle at Illinois and was part of the Illini team that stunned No. 1 Ohio State in 2007. Andrew, then a high-school sophomore, was decked out in blue and orange that day in Ohio Stadium, cheering for his brother. But otherwise, Norwell was a Buckeye through and through.
“Both of my older brothers’ jerseys were retired at our high school,” Norwell said, “and I was always looking up to them. They were my role models, along with dad. He was always a hard worker. That was instilled in me. I wanted to do great things.”
When former OSU coach Jim Tressel recruited Andrew out of Anderson High School, he told Ivar that he wasn’t going to let another Norwell leave Ohio.
Norwell helped lead Anderson to consecutive appearances in the state championship game, but his senior season was cut short by a broken tibia suffered against DeSales in Columbus.
“One second you’re walking around and the next second you can’t,” Norwell said. “You can’t take anything for granted.
“It shaped me a lot because you never know when your last play is going to be. You want to give it your all and do the best you can.”
Norwell saw playing time early in his Ohio State career. He was right tackle J.B. Shugarts’ backup as a freshman in 2010, and he played in 11 games. Norwell started at left guard and left tackle in 2011, and he has been at left guard the past two years.
“I always tell everybody he’s the best guard in the country,” Mewhort said. “He’s the reason I think we can do what we do, because he’s such a nasty player.”
What often is overlooked, Mewhort said, is that Norwell is a technician who takes pride in his preparation.
“I work just as hard in practice getting my technique down and improving every day, from when I was a freshman to now,” Norwell said. “I’ve made great strides and studied opponents and do my best. I hardly ever have missed assignments.”
The NFL beckons next year, but Norwell isn’t dwelling on that. He is happy to be part of a powerful line and basking in the fun of a team riding an 18-game winning streak.
It’s a far cry from the guy who started the second half of his career in the doghouse.
“He was one of the infamous five who was late for the meeting when we first got here,” Meyer said. “(He was) way overweight and a guy who wasn’t committed to the cause.
“He has turned out to be one of our leaders, an incredible young man and a guy I have tremendous respect for.”