ATHENS -- They seemingly are so different. No, not seemingly. They are vastly different.
Corey Moore, the four-star recruit from Griffin, part of a signing class dubbed the Dream Team. Connor Norman, the small walk-on from Duluth, who joined the Georgia football team anonymously and who was not known by the correct name until recently.
By now Moore was supposed to be an established starter at safety. He’s not. By now Norman was supposed to be no longer necessary. He still is.
They have been pitted against each other for almost three years now. Moore could resent the walk-on for still being in the way. Norman could refuse to help the former four-star recruit.
And yet, it’s quite the opposite. Moore’s biggest fan might be Norman. And Norman’s biggest fan might be Moore.
“We’ve got that bond going on,” Moore said. “I love the man as a brother.”
That bond was forged, according to Moore, by a shared knowledge of their “struggles” to get to this point. But each struggle comes from a very different place.
Norman arrived at Georgia four years ago, transferring after one year at Presbyterian, a Division II program. Norman was at Presbyterian for one year, spurning only one other scholarship offer: Gardner-Webb. He went to Georgia on a leap of faith, with no expectation of ever playing. There was no contact with anybody at Georgia beforehand. He just called up Joe Tereshinski, the laison for walk-ons.
“I came just because I wanted to give it a shot. I really was almost perfectly happy with being a student there at Georgia, because Georgia was a place I grew up wanting to be at,” Norman said.
Norman made a name for himself on the scout team and moved up while scholarship players fell by the wayside. But the school’s drug policy, it must be stated, also has been pretty good for him.
Two years ago when Bacarri Rambo was suspended for the season opener, Norman got in one play against Boise State. A year later, Rambo was suspended the first four games, and Norman started the first two games.
“You never want it to feel like it’s something normal. It always hurts when you lose a guy like him for any period of time,” Norman said. “But that’s why you’ve got depth, so guys can step in and play.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was so unfamiliar with Norman that he called him “Conrad Newman” for a while. That has stopped. Well, almost.
“Conrad Newman, the full name hasn’t come out in about a year. But Conrad will come out every once in a while,” Norman said. “It’s a joke now. I hope so. I like to think of it as a joke.”
Last year, Norman technically wasn’t a walk-on, as he was awarded a scholarship in August along with seven others. He hasn’t heard anything about this year. He has been around long enough that the walk-on status should be forgotten, as he has played in every game the past two seasons. But for him it’s not.
“I feel like once a walk-on, always a walk-on,” Norman said. “That’s the mentality you have coming in. You’re always feeling like you have to push yourself and prove yourself to the coaches.”
Much of the playing time Norman has received has come at the expense of Moore, who has himself to blame, as well.
Moore is frank that he didn’t reach his goals as a freshman. He has had Rambo and Shawn Williams ahead of him the past two years, but they’re gone now. In fact when Rambo and Williams were thinking of leaving after the 2011 season, Williams said Moore would be ready to step in as a sophomore. But now here he is a junior, and he’s still competing for playing time.
But Moore doesn’t admit to any frustration.
“I just want to show coaches that I can win out there; if I’m out there on the ball field,” Moore said.
Moore said he has been working in the film room, studying the playbook and learning how to take things slower. He says that work has made him feel a step faster.
And Norman, unprompted, will agree with that.
“He’s really stepped up his game. He’s been really good,” Norman said.
But Moore is much more complimentary of Norman.
“I’ve got much respect for Connor. I feel like Norman is the best player on the defense, because if Coach Grantham was to dial up a play or just make up a play, Connor’s supposed to know that play that night,” Moore said. “Most people think he can’t do it. Outsiders think he can’t do it. But I know he can do it. I’ve got faith in him, just like the coaches.”
After practice, or in the offseason, the two will exchange text messages, discussing their struggles -- whether it’s football, school work or life, according to Moore. And when it comes to football, Norman has not been afraid to help Moore learn the playbook and the little things that have made Grantham fall back on playing Norman.
Now there is another competitor. Junior college transfer Shaquille Fluker could leapfrog both of them at some point this season. As they deal with that, Moore and Norman probably will turn once again to each other.
“He’s stuck in there with me,” Moore said. “He knows my struggle, I know his struggle.”