Norberg adds punch to Cary-Grove's flex-bone

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Norberg adds punch to Cary-Grove's flex-bone

After last year's 8-3 finish, Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg began a search for a fullback to fill a void in his flex-bone triple option offense.

"Someone who adds another dimension that makes us potentially very dangerous and explosive," he said, scanning the roster.

Seaburg settled on Kyle Norberg. It was a smart decision. But would the 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior, who was a starter at linebacker as a sophomore and junior, accept the transition to fullback? Could he do the job? And what about his goal of being a linebacker in college?

"We don't have a lot of Division I players, just tough Division III type of players," Seaburg said. "We looked at Norberg. He is so physical, big and strong. And he has 4.6 speed. We felt he could be a difference-maker on offense. He hits the hole faster than any fullback we have had."

Norberg has made a difference. He has rushed 186 times for 1,933 yards and 23 touchdowns. He has averaged 10.4 yards per carry. He has fumbled only twice. In limited duty on defense, he has two sacks and two interceptions. In last Saturday's 7-0 victory over Crystal Lake Central, Norberg rushed 10 times for 133 yards.

Cary-Grove (12-0) will play at Lake Forest (9-3) on Saturday in a Class 6A semifinal. It marks the first time the Trojans have reached the semifinal round since winning the state title in 2009.

"Norberg is having a great year," Seaburg said. "He turned himself into a workhorse kind of fullback who gets tough four or five yards but also has had several touchdown runs over 70 yards. I'm surprised at the number of explosive plays he has had over 50-60 yards."

Norberg is surprised, too. "I never saw myself in a position where I'd be running the ball," he said. It finally dawned on him in Week 8, when he rushed for 342 yards and three touchdowns against Dundee-Crown to set school and Fox Valley Conference records for yards in a single game.

Growing up, he was a three-sport athlete who thoroughly enjoyed football, basketball and baseball. Later, he competed in track. As a sophomore, however, he dropped everything else to harness his energy for football. "It's my favorite thing to do. I strive to be good at it," he said.

His hero is his grandfather, who was a 6-foot-3, 290-pound noseman at Iowa State. "I'm not as big as him but I wanted to be like him. He has been my hero. I compare myself to him. He made it to Division I and that has been a goal of mine," Norberg said.

He was a lineman in eighth grade, then was shifted to linebacker as a freshman and promoted to the sophomore team. He played linebacker on the varsity as a sophomore and junior.

He figured to play linebacker as a senior so he attended the Elite 7 camp in Barrington, a training facility for athletes which is run by former Cary-Grove star Alex Kube, who played at Northern Illinois and once had a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings.

Then Norberg began to sense that his life was about to change.

"We had meetings. The coaches came to every senior's house to tell us what would be in store for the season," he said. "At first, the coach talked about a few plays at fullback. But when summer camp started, I was taking more reps at fullback than linebacker. He wanted me to learn the position."

At an out-of-town camp in early August in Whitewater, Wisconsin, Seaburg and his coaching staff began to cement the starting lineup during three-a-day practice sessions and scrimmages. During every scrimmage, Norberg was playing fullback.

"I figured that's where they wanted me to be, where I could help the team the most," he said. "At first, I was scared and worried. I had been training to be a linebacker. I texted some teammates. They said: 'They put you there (at fullback) for a reason. You have to make it happen.'

"After the camp, I had a week off to think about it. It finally sunk in. I said to myself: 'Let's make it work and be the best I can be at this spot.' It was cool to try something new.

"At first, it was confusing, remembering plays, who to block, reading the blocks. As a freshman, I also was a backup wingback on the sophomore team. From a fullback's standpoint, the offense isn't difficult to understand. I'm lined up directly behind the quarterback and running downhill all the time.

"How will this affect my college recruiting? Are they looking at me as a fullback or linebacker? I still look at myself as a linebacker. Fullback gives me more athleticism. But I still want to be a linebacker in college. I want to hit people rather than be hit. I like the instinctive part of the game. I like to make plays."

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."