Former USF offensive tackle Marcus Norman knew he wanted to continue playing football after finishing up his collegiate career with the Bulls in 2019, but the opportunity to do so didn’t immediately present itself.
After over a year of waiting, Norman is finally getting a chance to play professionally in the Canadian Football League (CFL) for the BC Lions in the league’s upcoming season.
Norman said he heard of the opportunity through his agent who asked if he was still interested in playing football after not playing formally for over a year, a question Norman answered without hesitation.
“I was talking to [my agent] and I was like ‘Heck yeah I still want to play,’” Norman said. “I still want to play football, live the dream as long as I can and be in it until I pretty much can’t play anymore.
“After that, they talked to their people up in BC and then I was on the phone with the recruiter, and he was like ‘We really want you up there. We feel like you’d come up and give our program something.’”
The organization sent Norman an offer soon after, which he accepted, officially adding him to the roster.
Taking a forced year off from football due to a lack of opportunities after graduating from college could be enough to retire a player, especially considering the uncertainty COVID-19 was causing in the sports world. The CFL was unable to have a season in 2020 and other professional leagues such as the NFL were limited in what they could do.
For Norman, however, his passion for the sport compelled him to continue working despite the obstacles he faced.
“I would really just say it’s the love for the game [that drives me],” Norman said. “There’s a lot of people who I think could have still played, but they just didn’t love it like I do. They had a lot of potential, but they just stopped playing football for some reason or another. I just really love playing football.”
Aside from his love of the game, Norman attributes the offer from the Lions to his athletic frame in conjunction with the tape he was able to accumulate in his time with the Bulls. Norman’s build is very similar to that of a prototypical offensive lineman, and in four seasons at USF, Norman made 45 starts at right tackle and one at left tackle, providing ample amounts of film for potential teams to review.
“On top of [my build], … they saw my film and they liked it so they decided ‘Hey let’s give him a shot,’” Norman said. “They took the opportunity and they just gave me that chance to play there. I’m going to thank them for the rest of my life just for giving me the opportunity to play football again.”
Although going to a new country to play in a new league will be a challenge in itself, Norman has a slight advantage. His older brother, Phillip, is also with the Lions.
Phillip recently signed an extension with the Lions in January and made 13 consecutive starts at center in the league’s most recent season, with his debut coming against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He said he was eager to get the chance to play alongside his brother for the first time in their careers.
“He called me and told me he was thinking about signing to my team,” Philip said. “I was actually really excited, being that we’ve never actually got a chance to play together, so this would be our first time.
“We both play different positions. I mostly play center, I know he plays tackle, so I was very excited.”
However, Marcus said the relationship between him and his brother was unbeknownst to the team when they offered him his contract.
“This was a new coaching staff for BC, they didn’t know me and my brother were actually brothers, that’s what they told me,” Marcus said. “I talked with the offensive line coach, I talked to the recruiter and everybody … The offensive line coach had called me and was like ‘Hey I didn’t know you were related to Phillip,’ and I was like ‘Yeah that’s my brother.’”
Marcus’ football career actually started because he wanted to be like his brother, paying for school by doing something he loved.
“After seeing my brother … go off to college and play football there, I was like ‘Hey I also want to play football in college and get my school paid for and all that,’” Marcus said. “After a while it was less of, ‘I want to go and get my school paid for,’ and more of, ‘I just want to keep playing football as long as I can.’”
Phillip said he’s always tried to be a positive force in all areas of Marcus’ life, including football and beyond.
“Me and Marcus have always been really close,” Phillip said. “I’ve always wanted to set a good example, not just for football, but in life as well. I’m glad I was able to give that to him. I’ve always been very proud of him.
“He’s very, very smart, well-spoken, probably one of the nicest people you could ever meet and definitely one of the best chefs I know as well. I’m just very proud of him as an older brother.”
In his upcoming rookie season in the CFL, Marcus has a couple of goals including making the active roster and eventually earning a starting gig.
A CFL team is allowed to carry 45 players on the active roster along with one player reserve. There are also 10 practice squad spots available per team. There are currently 95 players on the squad, according to the Lions’ online roster.
Norman has long-term aspirations in addition to his goals for this season, including leaving a legacy for future generations to look back on.
“I want to leave a legacy whether it be the CFL, the NFL, Spring League, the new league coming out … I want to leave my name somewhere so if my kids or my kids’ kids say ‘Oh, what did grandpa do’ or ‘What did dad do,’ they can look at my name and say, ‘He was in the CFL, he played a significant role in the CFL and he had this record, he had that record,’” Norman said.
Norman said he hopes people see his story as inspiration to never give up, to see how he stayed prepared despite having to take a year off.
“Whoever reads [this story], hopefully they follow what they want to do,” Norman said. “Whether it be football, whether it not be football, a different sport, a different path, a different career, [hopefully they don’t] give up on it because it may not happen as soon as you want it to but it’ll happen at the right time.
“The CFL didn’t happen as soon as I graduated, it took a year of waiting and preparation to finally get an opportunity to play football again. The people that have to wait, don’t give up on it yet, don’t give up on what you think it is, give it a little bit of time. Be prepared, because when that call comes in you have to be prepared at a moment’s notice.”