Rushing attempt No. 320 of Max Norris’ high school football career will be imprinted in the minds of Center Grove fans for years to come:
A gap along the left side of the Trojans’ offensive line widens. Norris, as he was known to do, instinctively darts through with nothing but 91 yards of artificial surface in front of him.
Then it happened.
Not right away, but eventually.
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“It was a hamstring. Right before I hit top speed, it pulled real tight,” said the senior, who grabbed the back of his left leg around the Ben Davis 30-yard line late in the second quarter of a 49-45 Class 6A semistate loss. “I was hopping at that point. It was pretty disappointing.”
The 75 yards produced by the 5-foot-11, 212-pounder on his final carry as a Trojan are in many ways the ideal microcosm of his four-year varsity career — an uncommon grouping of speed and power at times kept in check by a susceptibility to injury.
Nonetheless, Norris proved virtually unstoppable this season, running the football 162 times for 1,829 yards (an average of 11.3 per carry) and 26 touchdowns to lead Center Grove to a 9-4 season.
His TD total this season along with his yards per attempt both this season and during his career (11.1) established new program records.
Norris is Player of the Year for the Daily Journal’s 2014 All-County Football Team.
An athlete of immediate-impact caliber as a freshman in 2011, Norris paid his dues by watching and learning from older, more-established teammates. He still saw the field enough to contribute 26 rush attempts for 187 yards and his initial varsity touchdown.
“Max was considered an elite athlete as soon as he stepped on the CG campus. He quickly became the ‘Rocket Man’ and a member of the End Zone Club because he was there so often,” said 16th-year Trojans coach Eric Moore, who early in his tenure mentored Jonny Zwitt, a 2001 graduate who remains the program’s career rushing leader with 4,697 yards.
“Max possesses great hands and unbelievable quickness. This season he brought the power package into the game plan, as well.”
Between his junior and senior seasons, Norris tackled workouts with increased ferocity, adding 37 pounds of muscle to his frame and reworking his running mindset altogether.
Previously most dangerous using his sprinter’s speed to run wide in Moore’s wing-T attack, Norris evolved into a between-the-tackles bulldog unafraid to initiate contact.
His finest hours were against Lawrence Central the night of Sept. 26, when he turned 15 rushes into a school-record 337 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-31 victory. Other outstanding performances came against Cathedral (276 yards) and the aforementioned loss at Ben Davis (198).
For his career, Norris accounted for 3,571 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns.
Though his high school football swan song isn’t taking place inside Lucas Oil Stadium as one of the two Class 6A finalists the way Norris had long hoped, it’s difficult to locate imperfections within his final 13 games.
“I could only describe my senior season as … I can’t really take much of the credit. Our linemen were phenomenal all season,” Norris said. “I grew up with these guys. My dad (David Norris) was a running back in high school (at Marion), and he taught me that you’re nothing without your linemen.”
Despite his credentials, Norris has been offered only one football scholarship offer, that being from Western Illinois University. The Leathernecks are part of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which includes Indiana State University among its 10 members.
Additional offers could be forthcoming, although at this juncture he believes Western Illinois is where he’ll end up.
“They’ve showed a lot of interest in me from the beginning. Their coaches and players are really good people,” Norris said. “It fits me.”
Another benefit with being a future Western Illinois player, Norris claims, would be the opportunity to wear purple the way his old man did in high school.
Red and white are now the colors of Norris’ football background. He moves ahead both in life and on the gridiron with not a single regret.
“I look back at how far we came as a team this season. We were 1-3 at one point, but we believed in each other, fought for each other and improved together,” he said. “I knew eventually things would click and we would be unstoppable.”
Norris’ overall legacy at Center Grove extends off the field, as well.
“Max is a very diligent hard worker in the weight room and was an excellent track athlete until he injured his hamstring last winter. He has always been a very humble teammate and very giving to children, etc.” Moore added.
“There was the Gray Ghost at LSU and the Rocket Man at Center Grove. Both will be known for a long time.”
2014 DAILY JOURNAL ALL-COUNTY FOOTBALL TEAM
*Max Norris;Center Grove;RB;Senior
Dokken Egenolf;Indian Creek;RB;Senior
Gynson Robley;Indian Creek;QB;Junior
Ethan Whitaker;Indian Creek;WR;Senior
Jake McGown;Indian Creek;WR;Senior
Devon Hensley;Center Grove;WR;Senior
Austin Smogor;Center Grove;OL;Senior
Jacob Shiley;Center Grove;OL;Senior
Nick Davis;Center Grove;OL;Sophomore
Braxton Zachery;Indian Creek;OL;Senior
Tyler Hamilton;Indian Creek;OL;Senior
Gavin Everrett;Center Grove;DL;Senior
Javon Swann;Center Grove;DL;Junior
Cameron Tidd;Center Grove;DL;Junior
Nick Clevenger;Indian Creek;DL;Junior
Hunter Potteroff;Indian Creek;DL;Junior
Adam Lutgring;Center Grove;LB;Senior
Keith Sears;Center Grove;LB;Senior
Jackson Sodrell;Center Grove;LB;Junior
Elijah Maness;Indian Creek;LB;Senior
Nick Mathis;Indian Creek;LB;Senior
Dylan Walker;Indian Creek;LB;Senior
Tyler Pence;Center Grove;DB;Junior
Cole Fresher;Center Grove;DB;Senior
Jimmy Starks;Indian Creek;DB;Senior
Nate Snyder;Kicker;Center Grove;Junior
Drew Conrad;Center Grove;Punter;Junior
*Player of the Year
Center Grove: Calvin Daggett, Titus McCoy and Trevor Hohlt
Edinburgh: Bobby Simpson, Kevin Johnson and Elijah Parmer
Franklin: Drew Utterback, Tyler Hendricks, Ryan Torrance, Nick Welch, Damon Munn, Cole Edwards and Alex VanDyke
Greenwood: Tanner Skeel, John Gallman, Jackson Dougherty, Paul Proctor and Marty Wituszynski
Indian Creek: Corey Sheetz, Bryce Hogue and Nic Brown
Whiteland: Brandon Patterson, Ryder Emberton and Braxton Short