Western Illinois University running back Max Norris has waited two years to make a significant impact at the collegiate level.

The former Center Grove standout, now 30 pounds lighter than he was last season when he played sparingly as a fullback, is prepared to be one of the Leathernecks’ featured ball carriers.

A 5-foot-10, 205-pound redshirt sophomore, Norris hopes fewer pounds leads to additional opportunities.

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“I got heavy last year, and it just wasn’t me,” said Norris, who says a combination of the position change and poor eating habits led to him weighing 236 pounds last season.

“Now I feel great. Better than I’ve ever felt. I’m stronger and faster than I’ve ever been.”

Norris made changes to his diet starting in December, largely limiting himself to rice, salads, grilled chicken, broccoli and fruit. He began running no less than a mile a day during the offseason to improve his cardiovascular fitness.

With the assistance of Matt Jacobs, WIU’s first-year director of strength and conditioning, Norris succeeded in strengthening his hamstrings after occasionally being sidelined with hamstring injuries during his high school football career.

Norris rushed for 3,571 and 48 touchdowns during his four seasons at Center Grove (2011-14). He earned the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year distinction as a senior after rushing for 1,829 yards and 26 scores to lead Center Grove to a 9-4 season. He averaged 11.3 yards per carry during his final high school season.

The hamstring pulls that plagued Norris periodically in high school followed him to the Western Illinois campus, which is located 75 miles southwest of Peoria.

“My first year here it was a different head coach (Bob Nielson), and I just wasn’t ready,” Norris said. “During (preseason) camp I had a hamstring injury, but the redshirt season helped me understand college football in general.

“Going from (Center Grove’s) wing-T offense to a spread offense, there’s an adjustment.”

Suffice it to say, he’s adjusted.

At halftime of the spring game in April, Norris was one of four Leathernecks players recognized as most improved from spring workouts and practices.

Norris finished the spring game with six carries for 29 yards. He has yet to carry the football for Western Illinois during a regular-season game.

Western Illinois opens the season Aug. 31 at Tennessee Tech.

“A year ago Max was too heavy and not in good enough shape. I told him this,” second-year Western Illinois head coach Charlie Fisher said. “At the end of the day it was Max deciding he was going to get in shape and be what he could be.

“Max listened. He took to heart what he heard, and basically said, ‘I’m going to get in shape and I’m going to compete.’”

Now carrying less weight, Norris is hoping to take that momentum and run with it in the fall.

The Norris file

Max Norris

Age: 20

Born: Greenwood

Family: Parents, David and Debbie; sister, Madison, 22

High school: Center Grove (2015)

College: Western Illinois (slated to graduate in 2019)

Major: Marketing

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.