Norwood eyes big impact in final season for Eastern Randolph Wildcats

Eastern Randolph’s Jani Norwood is set for his senior season. (Bob Sutton/Randolph Record)

North Carolina football commit excels as Eastern Randolph lineman

RAMSEUR – Jani Norwood’s goal is to take care of business on the football field for Eastern Randolph in the coming months.

The focus became clear after he made a college commitment in the spring.

The offensive lineman chose North Carolina for his college destination.

“I wanted to do it before the start of my senior season,” Norwood said. “UNC felt like the most home to me.”

Eastern Randolph, the two-time defending Piedmont Athletic Conference champion, opens the season Friday night with a non-conference game against visiting Eastern Alamance, which handed the Wildcats a loss last year.

Coach Burton Cates of the Wildcats said he’s glad that Norwood reached a conclusion so early in the recruiting process.

“He had many offers on the table,” Cates said. “I think you want his senior year to be special.”

Cates, who has more than 350 high school coaching victories, said Norwood is the best offensive lineman he has coached.

Norwood said he could play guard or center in college based on discussions he had with North Carolina’s coaching staff. Either way, he liked the general tone of the dialogue.

“Every time I’ve been there, it was a great experience,” he said. “It felt like family. It felt like home.”

The Wildcats have options on how they use Norwood this year. He’s one of four returning starting offensive linemen.

He was Eastern Randolph’s right tackle in 2022 because then-senior quarterback Stratton Barwick is a left-hander. He could move to left tackle for his senior season, Cates said.

Plus, he played on the defensive line at tackle during the state playoffs.

Norwood, who spent a brief time on the baseball team this spring, competed in track and field in the shot put and discus. His toss of 37 feet, 8¾ inches was second in the shot put in the spring’s Randolph County championships.

Yet his role on the Class 1-A state runner-up boys’ basketball team involved into a key contributor off the bench. That sure helped in his conditioning under coach Johnny Thomas.

“He runs us a lot,” Norwood said. “It definitely helped me keep in shape. I definitely lost a couple of pounds playing basketball.”

Cates said Norwood’s improvement in basketball demonstrated the athleticism of the player who has weighed as much as 310 pounds. The football coach said at one time Norwood could be on the low blocks all night and wouldn’t make a shot.

“He’s big and he can dunk a basketball,” Cates said. “That’s how much he has improved.”

By Bob Sutton