Joseph Norwood on the rise for UMass football secondary

  • University of Massachusetts sophomore safety Joseph Norwood, left, and redshirt freshman cornerback Elijah Johnson practice with the Minutemen at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Thursday, August 8, 2019.

  • University of Massachusetts sophomore safety Joseph Norwood (7) runs a ball security drill during a Minutemen practice at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Thursday, August 8, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2019 8:24:05 PM
Modified: 8/15/2019 8:23:55 PM

AMHERST — Only one true freshman started a game last season for UMass, and he did so just three games into his college career.

Joseph Norwood started at safety against Georgia Southern last year and then earned a second straight start the following week against Florida International. He didn’t have much time to ease his transition to college football, arriving in Amherst as a surprise in June and starting by mid-September.

But through that experience, Norwood learned a lot about what it takes to be successful in college football, and he’s putting those lessons to good use this offseason.

“Looking at last year’s film, I’m just trying to make a big change in my body, the way I play and the way I think,” Norwood said. “I’ve been learning different schemes that the offenses run, different defensive schemes, I’ve been learning a lot of different techniques. Just a lot of little things just to help my game.”

“The smarter you get the slower the game goes for you,” Norwood added. “Now everything for me is technique-oriented, just trying to get my technique down right and just go play football.”

In addition to spending time diving into UMass’ new playbook and diagnosing offensive tendencies, Norwood has also changed how he takes care of his body off the field and learned how to manage his time. Those key aspects have allowed him to walk around the field with a larger aura of confidence in himself.

Norwood’s talent was never in doubt as a four-star recruit coming of out of high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee last year. Yet there is a difference in the level he has brought to the Minutemen this offseason.

Senior safety Martin Mangram said he can tell that Norwood has a better grasp on his responsibilites by the way he’s flying around practice making plays.

“He’s playing a lot more confident,” Mangram said. “He’s not that young guy anymore. He’s smart out there, he understands the defense, which allows him to take smart risks and really make big plays. When he knows what he’s doing, he’s really great at it and he’s gotten way more consistent at doing that.”

Already in training camp, Norwood has made life difficult on his own quarterbacks during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. In Monday’s scrimmage, he swooped in front of a pass from Randall West for an interception and he was able to break up a few other passes during his series on the field.

However, there are still plenty of small details that the coaches are noticing that are hard to decipher during the controlled aspects of practice.

“He’s matured a lot since the spring, but he still has a long way to go,” safeties coach Jason Tudryn said. “He’s got a lot of skills, it’s just getting him to understand the grind of this level of football and the work it takes to prepare yourself off the field. … Having him understand the nuance of the game and thinking of the decision-making process late in the third and in the fourth quarter takes a high-level of training.”

The future, though, is bright for Norwood if he continues to improve at this pace. Mangram said the sophomore has already garnered plenty of respect in the locker room with his jovial personality and expects Norwood to be an anchor for the UMass defense in the years to come.

“He still has three years and if he gets it now, he can lead UMass for the next three years with our culture, how to play and how to learn the playbook,” Mangram said. “He can be a huge leader and already so many guys look up to him. He talks a lot, he’s a funny guy, so it’s really cool that he’s in that position and still learning a lot.”

MANGRAM BACK — Mangram thought he had played his final game at UMass in fitting fashion against Georgia, where his father played running back.

Mangram graduated with his engineering degree last December and was set to pursue an aerospace engineering masters degree at a different school. It was unclear if Mangram would attempt to play football at his new school as well, but the point became moot when Walt Bell was named the new UMass coach. The ensuing conversations with Bell were more than enough to convince Mangram to stay for his senior year and instead pursue a masters degree in mechanical engineering back in Amherst.

“I just wanted to be out here with my brothers,” Mangram said. “Coach Bell and his culture really inspired me to come back. I have a great opportunity here at UMass to get my masters in one year and I couldn’t pass that up. I’m just really glad to be back.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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