When Scott Chadwick arrived at Charlotte’s Myers Park High School in 2014, the football program had managed just one winning season in the previous nine years. Two years later, the Mustangs head into the Thanksgiving holiday with an 11-1 record and about to duel Charlotte Vance in the second round of the state 4-AA playoffs.
Chadwick will quickly let anyone who’s asking know that linebacker Ben Norris has played a major role in the three-year turnaround at Myers Park.
“This is only the third time in the history of the school that we’ve played on the Thanksgiving weekend,” Chadwick said. “Ben has been a big part of that and is one of the reasons we’re 11-1. He’s having a phenomenal year for us.”
The East Carolina Pirates are hopeful Norris can have a similar impact in Greenville the next four years.
Norris, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder, became the 20th member of ECU’s recruiting Class of 2017 on Monday. He made a verbal commitment to the Pirates with a simple afternoon Twitter post, saying “I would like to officially commit to East Carolina University. Go Pirates.”
Coastal Carolina, Elon and Georgetown were other schools to offer Norris, who took an unofficial visit to East Carolina on Nov. 12 to see the Pirates play Southern Methodist at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. ECU was one of the first schools to offer Norris a scholarship last spring, according to Chadwick.
“He built up a relationship with (offensive coordinator) Coach (Tony) Peterson and I think (head) Coach Montgomery has been working hard on him the last little bit to close the deal for them. They really stepped up their interest and let it be know they really wanted him.”
In Norris, the Pirates are getting a player with an impressive athletic pedigree.
His father, Rob, was a small-college football player, while his mother was a basketball player at Wake Forest. Older brother Clay is the starting quarterback this season at Football Championship Subidivsion Georgetown.
Ben joined the Myers Park varsity as a sophomore in Chadwick’s first season as head coach. But Norris played sparingly for a team that finished 5-7.
“He was kind of a spot player as a sophomore, and a special teams guy,” Chadwick said. “But obviously we saw the potential because at that time he was already a pretty big kid. He moved into a starter’s role last year and was an all-conference kid.
“We play in the 4-AA league here in Charlotte, and I see a lot of guys in person and on film. Quite honestly, he’s the best defensive player I’ve seen all year. I know people will say they hear this all the time, but I think East Carolina got a steal. I think he’s an ACC-caliber kid. There were some ACC, SEC, Big 12 schools that expressed an interest, but none of those offered. But I don’t think that would have mattered to him anyway because he became comfortable with things at East Carolina.”
Norris did miss three games due to a suspension and suffered a torn labrum late in the year that impacted his play. But he’s become a defender this season worthy of an invitation to represent North Carolina in the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game in December. Norris is the first Myers Park player selected to play in the Shrine Bowl since linebacker Omar Gaither in 2001. Gaither went on to play at Tennessee.
Big plays by Norris throughout the season proved a major factor in Myers Park’s success this season. A prime example occurred in the Mustangs’ 14-7 victory in the third game of the year against city rival Providence.
The score was tied in the third quarter and Providence was driving in for what would have been the go-ahead point when Norris single-handily stopped the march.
“We were playing on Monday night because of a cancellation,” Chadwick said. “It was right after the Labor Day weekend and most of the kids had gone out of town and come back from Labor Day. We were sleepwalking through the game. We were totally out of it.
“But then Ben comes through on a blitz, hits the running back so hard he fumbles the ball and then he falls on the fumble. We score two players later and that was it. The kid woke up the entire team with that play.”
Norris also produced an extraordinary performance late in the season against East Mecklenburg. He made 12 tackles and several tackles for loss in a 23-21 win that was the Mustangs’ 10th of the year. The triumph tied a 33-year-old school record for single-season victories, which the team broke the next week by downing Northwest Guilford, 42-27, in the first round of the state playoffs.
East Carolina has recruited Norris to play outside linebacker. Chadwick said Norris plans to graduate in December and enroll at ECU for the spring semester.
“With his intention to arrive there in January and be there for spring practice, I think he’s a kid who has a chance to be productive early in his career,” Chadwick said. “Pretty much every game for us, you look and he’ll have eight or nine tackles, one or two tackles for loss, a quarterback pressure or a deflected pass. He fills all the boxes.
“I think he’d be great in anybody’s program. But like I said, I think East Carolina got a steal with him.”
Norris the second linebacker prospect to commit to ECU, joining Cannon Gibbs, a junior college player at Jones County Community College.