Football

Converted LB Norberg will get carries agaisnt ‘Cats

on

One look at a picture of Kyle Norberg and one wonders if this guy was really recruited to play running back.

One Google of his last name and you see where the North Dakota redshirt freshman’s strapping physique comes from.

Kyle’s father, Bill, was Mr. America in 1988. A generation ago, Bill was one of the premier amateur body builders in the country. Twenty-six years later, Kyle is starting something new by tapping into something old.

Kyle spent his redshirt freshman year, spring drills, fall camp and the first two weeks of the 2014 season as an inside linebacker, a position that more aptly fits burly frame. But before UND’s game against Missouri State, the coaches approached him about changing roles.

UND was short-handed in the backfield. As a prep senior at Cary Grove (Illinois) High, Norberg rushed for more than 2,600 yards and 26 touchdowns as a fullback in a triple-option offense. His team finished second in Class 6A and he was a first-team all-state selection. Head coach Bubba Schweigert and offensive coordinator Paul Rudolph decided to give Norberg a chance to run the rock.

“They were looking for more of a bigger back, more of a power back and Coach Rudolph called me into his office,” said Norberg, who’s 6-foot-1, 220-pound listing belies just how big he is. “I was definitely up for the challenge. I just wanted to do anything to help my team and that was a way onto the field, so I took advantage of the opportunity.”

Against Missouri State, Norberg carried the ball five times for 24 yards in a 38-0 loss. Last week against Stony Brook, he bulled his way to 53 yards on 27 carries, averaging just two yards per tote, but helping UND to a 13-3 win over the Seawolves. Norberg is slated to start on Saturday as UND takes on No. 13 Montana State in Bozeman.

“Our health isn’t great at running back and we needed to get another guy at that position,” Schweigert said. “We looked at our defensive depth chart. Sometimes, you look back at high school performances. He played running back in high school and had a lot of yards. We wanted to give him an opportunity. Right now, we are always looking to get our guys in the right position to help the football team.”

The transition back to the backfield has been a physical challenge, but not much of a mental change, Norberg said.

Norberg2“With my style of play and what they want me to do, I try to be a physical, tough runner and as a linebacker, you have to be physical and tough too,” Norberg said. “In that aspect, it’s sort of the same.”

Although Norberg had carried the ball before the switch, he’d never read gaps and looked for holes from a tailback’s perspective. At Cary Grove, he was the fullback in a triple-option offense, meaning he didn’t look for open space as much as just a defender to run over.

“It’s been different because in the triple option, I was the fullback and that was just straight left,” Norberg said. “Now you have to read the defenses when you are getting the handoff. That’s been a challenge for me.”

Cedric Simmons rushed for 54 yards in a season-opening 42-14 loss to San Jose State and 42 more in a 16-13 win over Robert Morris. But he was scratched from the lineup with an injury before the Missouri State game.

Adam Shaugabay is the only UND running back averaging more than four yards per carry and Jer Garman was the most experienced back coming into this season, having backed up Jake Miller the last two years. But no UND running back has even amassed 100 yards yet this year and no run has gone for more than Shaugabay’s 19-yard spurt against Robert Morris.

Schweigert and Rudolph want to run a clock-grinding, ball-control offense that is conducive to the skill set of a big running back like Norberg.

“Their tailbacks fit their offensive strategy very well,” said MSU head coach Rob Ash. “They are bigger, guys, the run down hill and they are physical. They are well-coached in terms of knowing what the blocking scheme is. They know where the play is supposed to hit, they see it and they pound it in there. They are tough guys and that’s the mentality of their offense. They are intentionally slow in terms of the clock to try to burn time and run less plays.”

Saturday, Norberg and the UND offense will face off against a Montana State defense flush with talent, but still trying to find its footing after a whirlwind non-conference schedule that saw them try to stop three prolific offenses. Saturday’s matchup will be a change of pace, just like Norberg’s new position is for the freshman.

“My only concern was hey, could he hang on to it? He hung on to it just fine,” Schweigert said. “He’s tough, physical. Kyle is working hard and keeps improving and I know he’s excited. He will definitely get his share of carries on Saturday against Montana State.”

 

Photos courtosey of UND Athletics.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.