One of the University of Miami's valuable inside bruisers is now in the NFL.
But it sure took a long time Saturday for him to get there, no doubt causing him substantial stress along the way, especially after leaving school a year early to pursue his dream.
Kendrick Norton, the 6-3, 312-pound, run-stopping defensive tackle who plugged up the middle of a talented Hurricanes front line, was drafted as the 24th pick of the seventh and final round by the Carolina Panthers — 242nd overall — on Saturday.
Norton left school after his junior season to enter the NFL Draft, but wrestled with the decision, announcing it on Jan. 8.
“This decision wasn’t an easy one, as I love being a Hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step in realizing my dreams of being an NFL football player,’’ Norton said previously on Instagram and Twitter. “…Sometimes the best decision is not the most popular decision.’’
Most analysts, and the NFL College Advisory Committee, believe Norton should have stayed in school for his final season. The advisory committee did not see him as potential first-round or second-round pick. Former UM defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, now at Alabama, said he was "mildly surprised'' that Norton and fellow junior tackle RJ McIntosh left early, but called Norton "a very physical nose guard."
McIntosh was drafted by the New York Giants in the fifth round Saturday.
Norton became the sixth Hurricane to be drafted Saturday, joining defensive end Chad Thomas (third round), tight end Christopher Herndon (fourth), running back Mark Walton (fourth), McIntosh and receiver Braxton Berrrios (sixth).
After Norton was chosen, ESPN analyst Todd McShay described him as "a gap-plugger — that's what he is,'' and said if he makes a team he'd likely be a backup.
"Obviously, nose guards don't usually get drafted as the top pick kind of guy,'' Kuligowski told the Miami Herald in February. "But he's a kid who is really intelligent, has got unbelievable balance, is very tough, rugged and durable and all of these things they're looking for in a nose guard. And he's very coachable. You tell him, 'This is how I want you to do it' and he'll go do it.'
"Some guys you have to rep through things.''
Norton, out of Jacksonville Trinity Christian, played in all 13 games this past season, starting 12. He had 26 tackles, 6 ½ tackles for loss, two sacks, a breakup and quarterback hurry.
As a sophomore in 2016, Norton was most productive, with 39 tackles, two sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 13 games started. He also forced a fumble and recovered one.
Part of Norton's announcement to turn pro was this: "My time at this school, the experiences with my teammates, Coach [Mark] Richt, Coach [Manny] Diaz, and of course my guy Coach Kool [Kuligowski] as well as the support of the amazing Miami fans everywhere...I Will carry these memories with me forever.
"I will always be a Miami Hurricane. GO CANES!"