Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Bryce Norman: From the Real Life ‘Friday Night Lights’ to Saturdays at SEMO

Tuesday, November 14, 2023
Junior linebacker Bryce Norman wraps up RMU's quarterback. Norman finished with 12 tackles.

Southeast Missouri State University’s inside linebacker Bryce Norman continues to shine.

Norman, a junior, leads the Redhawks in tackles for the third consecutive season. His ability to read plays, diagnose offenses, and accelerate to the ball has made him a standout performer at the inside linebacker position.

Sporting the number 32 jersey, Norman is not just a standout student-athlete, but also a symbol of hometown pride for Jackson, Missouri.

In the small town of Jackson, Missouri, high school football is more than just a game. Norman’s story is a real-life embodiment of the tales seen in the popular book turned TV series “Friday Night Lights.”

Head Coach Eric Taylor of the fictional Dillon Panthers in the show once said, “Success is not a goal. It’s a byproduct.”

Bryce Norman is a prime example of that. His success is a byproduct of his parental influence, the Jackson program, his work ethic, and his intense desire to be successful on the field.

Norman’s football journey took root in his hometown which he helped lead to its first Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) Class 5 state title his senior year under the guidance of former Coach Brent Eckley.

He earned the title of Class 5 Defensive Player of the Year as well as First-Team All-State accolades in 2020.

“Going to Jackson, it was fun. We had a really good coach, Coach Eckley. He was probably one of my biggest role models growing up,” Norman recalled fondly of his high school experiences.

The values of hardwork and discipline learned through Norman’s high school football experiences would become the bedrock of his success on the collegiate stage.

The transition to Southeast Missouri State was marked by his determination to make an impact early on. Norman made his presence known as a true freshman, defying expectations and starting his journey on a strong note.

“The good thing about Bryce is that he was born with a ‘See ball, hit ball’ mentality, so we didn’t have to teach him a lot of the instinct stuff. He’s been able to play well because he comes from such a good program,” Head Coach Tom Matukewicz said.

All of his coaches were quick to describe Norman as an “instinctual” player.

His time at SEMO has not come without its fair share of adversity.

This season, during the first game of the year, Norman faced a significant challenge as he battled a torn labrum and sprained AC joint that threatened to sideline him for the season.

After sitting out just one game, Norman showed grit and determination, and with the help of SEMO’s coaching staff and training team, has maintained his high level of play.

That drive and determination was showcased in SEMO’s final home game of the season against Robert Morris.

There, despite battling the injury, he recorded 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, forced and recovered a fumble, and even scored a touchdown from his linebacker position.

His game-changing plays were instrumental in keeping the Redhawks competitive, even though the team narrowly lost 21-20.

“As you go on through the game, it gets slower. You can see what the offense is really diagnosing as a defensive player. Sometimes the play just comes to you, and you gotta take the most advantage of it,” Norman said.

But his influence extends far beyond his individual performance.

Norman sets an example for his teammates through his tireless work ethic, discipline, and unselfish play.

“He’s a hard worker. He doesn’t really talk much, so he just speaks through his actions and his work ethic. It really motivates us and brings us all together,” Christian Fuhrman, one of Norman’s fellow linebackers, said about his leadership.

Coach Connor Benado, SEMO’s inside linebackers coach, raved about Norman’s leadership.

“Oh, he’s big time. He’s a great role model for those guys. He doesn’t say much, he works hard, he puts his head down and he gets the job done. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

Norman’s connection to SEMO runs deep, as his father was a standout player for the university, earning All-OVC honors as a center. This family legacy has played a role in motivating and shaping Bryce’s experiences at SEMO.

“My parents have been my heroes growing up. My dad, he’s an awesome guy, just teaching me football from a young age and running me around for travel ball,” Norman said, “He’s always been a role model on how to become a man through football. That’s what he really taught me. And that’s honestly why I chose to come here.”

Bryce Norman’s journey, much like the tales told in “Friday Night Lights,” exemplifies the power of football to unite a community, to inspire young athletes, and how a small-town player can rise to the top.