Art Norman wanted to create his own identity. He was tired of being Warren Norman’s little brother.
So he developed a niche opposite of running back Warren and headed the other direction after high school.
He didn’t even consider following Warren to Vanderbilt. Instead, he went east to North Carolina State to focus on pass rushing.
“In college I wanted to be Art, not Warren’s brother,” Art said. “I love my brother but I wanted to branch out and do my own thing.”
And for the last three years he has, emerging as one of N.C. State’s top defensive ends. But on Monday, he’ll once again be sharing the stage with his older brother when N.C. State and Vanderbilt square off in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl at LP Field.
The brothers can’t agree if this will be their first game as opponents. Warren believes they played each other once, maybe when he was 13. Art remembers being only teammates – from Pop Warner to Chamblee High School in Georgia.
“In Pop Warner I was on the same team with him because I was so big for my age that I played up,” Art recalled on Thursday. “My parents didn’t want to go to two different games on Saturdays so they made me play up. ... I hope he gets in and plays on offense. That’s what everybody wants to see. I hope he gets in. I think it would be interesting too.”
Perhaps the only member of the Norman family stressing over the game is Esther Norman.
The matriarch is making sure her allegiances are split down the middle – literally. She has crafted a shirt that reads “Vander-Pack” and “Wolf-Bilt.” She’ll also spend one half in the Vanderbilt section and the other on N.C. State’s side.
“My mom is stressed. She is so dramatic,” Warren said. “My dad is excited for the both of us. My mom is overreacting about, ‘Oh, somebody is going to lose.’ To some extent, she is also excited about it too.”
The brothers, separated by one year, drove up together from their hometown of Stone Mountain, Ga., to Nashville on Wednesday morning for the first day of bowl practices. Art plans to hang out with his brother at the Opryland Hotel, where both teams are staying when they are not at practice or in team activities.
As a freshman at Chamblee, Art played fullback and blocked for his brother, who rushed for more than 2,500 yards his last two years.
When not picking up one of his seven sacks his senior year, Art traveled with his father, Warren Sr., up to Vanderbilt to watch Warren shred SEC defenses and earn the 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year award.
Warren Norman looked poised for a memorable career. Instead, his sophomore season he suffered wrist and knee injuries. He redshirted his junior season and this year he has been used sparingly. Fourth team on the depth chart, he has rushed just 21 times for 75 yards and a touchdown while returning two kicks.
Art believes the knee injury still lingers despite Warren’s assertion that he feels 100 percent healthy.
“It is just frustrating,” Art said. “He just really loves football so it is real frustrating for him that he can’t play like he wants to play. ... You can’t really get much from the outside from him. He is not going to show you. He is a team player. I’m sure it is affecting him. I’m sure he wants to be out there starting and playing as much he did his freshman year.”
Art, on the other hand, has blossomed for the Wolfpack.
“I knew if he had the opportunity and the reps, I knew he would do well,” Warren said. “I knew what kind of player he was.”
N.C. State quickly found out.
With a strong work ethic that won over the outgoing coaching staff, Art jumped into the starting rotation last year when Jeff Rieskamp got hurt. Art, who has three inches and nearly 40 pounds on Warren at 6-foot-1 and 242 pounds, feasted on his opportunity. He collected 12.5 sacks over the last two years, including 5.5 this year.
“I’m on offense but I’ve always had a warm spot for Art over on defense,” N.C. State’s interim coach and offensive coordinator Dana Bible said. “First off because he is a good player. But he has been raised right. Great people. I don’t know his brother ... but if he is anything like Art he is special.”
With mutual respect, the Norman brothers plan to take the high road regardless of the outcome. After all, this could be the first and last time they cross paths on the football field.
“Losing period is tough,” Warren said. “I can’t tell you how either one of us is going to handle it. I’m not even trying to think about it. It will be tough. I’m sure neither one of us is going to rub it in one another’s faces. We have a ton of respect for each other.”