NORMAN, Okla. — When Oklahoma’s 2017 recruiting class arrived in full, cornerback Tre Norwood vied for the spot of least heralded. Despite offers from Notre Dame, Tennessee and his home-state school of Arkansas, he was the No. 80 cornerback in the 2017 class, according to the 247Sports composite ranking.
Norwood didn’t pay attention to that. His collegiate career was a blank canvas. The picture was up to Norwood to paint.
“You come in and work hard and take care of business, and you’ll have the opportunity,” Norwood said while looking back on his first year with the Sooners. “They don’t believe in the senior stuff. If you can play, you can play.”
Norwood proved he can play. When Oklahoma’s coaching staff had enough of shaky cornerback play in the Bedlam game, they turned to Norwood. He never left the starting lineup, starting the final five games.
There’s competition everywhere in the Sooners’ secondary this spring, but Norwood’s spot seems solid.
“The secondary really settled down when Norwood came in,” Oklahoma defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks said. “Gaining all that experience in some huge games for us and playing pretty well as a true freshman, it’s got to send his confidence sky high. He’s also a humble kid and understands that he’s got a long, long way to go there [to get to where] he wants to be. That’s what I love about him. He doesn’t say anything. He’s not an arrogant kid. He just comes out and puts his head down and works every day and gets better.”
Don’t expect a sophomore slump from Tre Norwood
The Sooners’ cornerback room has a brash talker. Junior Parnell Motley has a lot to say whether you want to hear it or not. If you’re a receiver, the noise can be deafening. Norwood is much more hushed. The work speaks for itself, and that philosophy is working.
“I’m attacking with an open mind and looking to get better each and every day and just learning,” Norwood said. “I want to progress my game from last year and take it to the next level and provide for the team.”
Where is Norwood’s level?
Playing cornerback in the Big 12 exposes any cornerback’s weaknesses quickly. There isn’t another Power 5 conference that puts them in more one-on-one situations. Norwood finished with 8 pass breakups last season.
Oklahoma’s defensive backs need to get their hands on more passes this season. Norwood’s breakups were 20 percent of the Sooners’ season total of 40.
It’s a major focus with every Oklahoma defensive back this spring.
“Just trying to get your hands on the ball and be in the right position,” Norwood said. “Take care of things at the line of scrimmage and execute the play. When the ball’s in the air, go make the play and become the receiver.”
Cornerback competition increases at Oklahoma
When the Sooners made the move to Norwood last season, it was an interesting time. Senior Jordan Thomas’ confidence was gone. The Sooners had watched it fluctuate for four years. Going to Norwood was the quintessential choice of going with the younger player when all things are equal.
But Oklahoma is in a different place with its cornerback depth as it prepares for the season. Transfers and injuries ravaged the spot in 2017. Had it not been for an early season knee injury to Jordan Parker, Norwood might have remained on the bench.
“Complacency will wreck your defense and your team as quick as anything,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “The lack of quality depth will hurt any program, and that’s what you have to have if you want to excel. I think we’re starting to get to a better place through our recruiting and the player that we are recruiting.”
Parker is healthy now. The Sooners have a healthy cornerback room. Sophomore Tre Brown, who started a game last season in place of Motley, is pushing for playing time. The Sooners recruited Brendan Radley-Hiles, Miguel Edwards and Starrland Baldwin in the 2018 class. Radley-Hiles is working at safety, but Edwards and Baldwin could push for playing time by the fall.
Norwood sees it. The competition allows the cream to rise to the top.
“Each and every day, we come out and push each other,” Norwood said. “There’s competition but it’s friendly. We all want the best for each other. We’re never looking down at each other. We’re all brothers at the end of the day. There’s a lot, and we want to do the best for the team.”