Former VHS Gator not giving up on playing pro football

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, July 25, 2018

For two years now, Norman Price has been on the outside edge of the NFL. The former Vicksburg High and Southern Miss offensive lineman spent an entire season on a roster but never played a down. He’s been cut three times and felt the cold, hard reality of the business side of the league.

The man nicknamed “Big Norman” is still standing tall, however, and is ready to make the most of his latest chance to play professional football. Price signed a free agent contract with the Carolina Panthers in June, and will report to their training camp when it opens today in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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“I got a tryout with them and went down there and did good, impressed the coaches and the GMs. I made my blocks, drove guys back and they ended up calling me back and signing me,” Price said. “I’m ready. Just for the chance to go back again and go back at it, because most people only get one chance. You’ve just got to take advantage of every opportunity you get and keep on balling out, keep God first, and you’ll be straight.”

Price, who plays guard, went undrafted in 2016 following a stellar career at Southern Miss. He was signed by the San Francisco 49ers, then went through a rollercoaster of emotions when the team made its final preseason cuts.

Price was among the last players released, then brought back to the practice squad the following day. He spent the entire 2016 season with the 49ers. Although he was never on the active roster, getting his foot in the door and working with an NFL team was a dream come true.

“It was awesome. I was so happy for that, because I thought I was done,” Price said. “There’s so many guys like that. They tell us that when you first come into the league, that you can be here today and gone tomorrow. I was so grateful and thanking God for that opportunity, and to get that opportunity again was a blessing.”

The opportunity was short-lived, though. He re-signed with the 49ers in the 2017 offseason but was cut late in the preseason. He latched on with the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad in October and was cut again 11 days later.

Price said he took a philosophical approach to all of the ups and downs.

“At first it was pretty tough. Like Malcolm (Butler) said earlier, it’s not fair sometimes,” Price said, referring to his fellow VHS alum and current Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler, who also was an undrafted free agent. “Some people just aren’t going to believe in you and they’re going to believe in another guy and go with him. You can’t get mad at it. At the end of the day they tell you it’s a business and don’t get too cool with this person or that person because the next day they could be out the door and gone.”

Or they could come right back in, as was the case with Price. The Panthers lost guards Andrew Norvell to free agency and returning starter Trai Turner is dealing with a lingering knee injury, leaving the team thin at the guard position.

Price was among the players invited to a tryout camp and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn a contract. He participated in the team’s offseason training activities and will be with them when camp opens this week.

The Panthers’ first preseason game is Aug. 9 at Buffalo.

“With Coach (Ron) Rivera, he doesn’t care who it is. If you’re out there and you’re making your blocks and getting your calls right, it doesn’t matter drafted or undrafted. Second-year guy, 10th-year guy, it doesn’t matter,” Price said. “When we came for the tryouts he told us they sign four or five tryout guys every year and now there’s three tryout guys on the roster. I’m going to keep working hard and keep going.”

Now Price’s mission is to do well enough over the next month for the Panthers to keep him around. He’s one of nine guards on the roster — six of whom have one year of NFL experience or less — but being there and having a chance is all Price wants.

“Once you get in a camp, you just have to ball out and get your name out there to the coaches,” he said. “Make sure they notice you and recognize you. Make sure they know you’re working hard. Just do like I do, and be the first one there and last one to leave and everything should be fine. If not, just keep pushing.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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