RUSSELLVILLE — Winning once is not enough for Arkansas Tech’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Dean Norsworthy, now in his third season on the Wonder Boys staff, knows how addicting success can be. The elite coach has produced some the finest athletes at high schools and colleges in the region, so the thrill still thrives in his life.
Norsworthy pursued the sport when he was a child. After his father died when he was 13 years old, Norsworthy relied on his football coaches to teach him strength, organization, discipline and to overcome adversity. "Football is the truest form of being a boy and a place where you have true camaraderie," Norsworthy said. "They taught me how to be a man."
Norsworthy led his district in passing yards and touchdown passes his senior season as a Scrapper in 1985. His heralded role models at Nashville High School aided him in earing the quarterback position at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. Though he was majoring in aviation and becoming a successful pilot, all Norsworthy thought about was football. Realizing his love for the sport would never leave him, Norsworthy became interested in the coaching aspect of football. "I didn’t know what else I would do," Norsworthy said.
He started researching and volunteering free time. Norsworthy would stress over the x’s and o’s of configuring his own offensive plays, even staying after hours to ask his mentors the why’s and how’s of the game.
The transition to coach came with immediate success. After his colligate career at HSU, he began coaching quarterbacks in 1993 at Arkadelphia High School. He then acted as the cornerbacks coach at Southlake Carroll (Texas) High School, in which the Dragons were coached to two state quarterfinals. It was with the Dragons that current Kansas City Chief Chase Daniel began his ninth grade season under Norsworthy. Moving on to Irving (Texas) High School, he coached the Tigers quarterbacks to three consecutive trips to the state playoffs and one Class 5A Division II state quarterfinal.
Norsworthy was hired at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2005 as first the quarterbacks and running backs coach, and then promoted to assistant head coach. In 2006 Norsworthy coached Lone Star Conference North Division Offensive Back of the Year Justin Pitrucha to finishing seventh in the nation in passing yards and 34th in total offense.
Midwestern State University (Texas) was the last college Norsworthy coached at before coming to Tech. Under his tutelage, quarterback Brandon Kelsey and the Mustangs passed for a school record of 3,390 yards and 29 passing touchdowns, resulting in a LCS co-Championship and a berth in the NCAA Division II Playoffs in 2009. During his tenure at Midwestern State, he coached four All-Americans. Quarterback Zack Eskridge earned a two-time All-America selection and was a 2009 Harlon Hill Trophy finalist.
Norsworthy joined the Wonder Boys in 2011 as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In 2012 quarterback Tanner Marsh passed for 2,874 yards, third-most in Tech history for a single season. He also rushed for the second-highest total yards at 3,316 and threw for the fifth-most touchdowns with 19. Marsh holds the second-most completions with 238 and became the second quarterback in Tech history to pass more than 400 yards in a single game.
Norsworthy has trained four players that have made it to the professional level: Brandon Noohi, Kelsey, Eskridge and Marsh.
While Noohi, who was with Norsworthy at SEOSU, plays in the Gridiron Developmental Football League for the Tulsa Thunder, Kelsey competed in Europe with the Hamburg Blue Devils of Hamburg, Germany.
Eskridge is currently a free agent for the Arena Football League, though he played for the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys, Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, AFL’s Kansas City Command, New Orleans VooDoo and San Jose SaberCats.
Eskridge attributes his success to his former coach. "He likes to talk things out and ask what I’m seeing and why I did the things that I did, while also maintaining a high level of energy, intensity and competitiveness," Eskridge said of Norsworthy. "He is open to suggestions from his players, he only calls plays that they’re comfortable with and he adapts his offense to the strengths of his players. This is what it takes in order to be a successful coach."
Tech’s own Marsh is now a quarterback for the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. On August 22 in a 39-38 comeback win against the BC Lions, Marsh threw his first professional touchdown pass and rushed six yards for his first rushing touchdown. He then moved to starting quarterback, winning his first game in that position 20-9 against the Toronto Argonauts on Sept. 3.
Norsworthy credits their success to a blessing. "I have had smart kids who are coachable and have a God-given talent, like Zack and Tanner," he said.
Regardless of passing through the ranks of high school and college as an elite offensive specialist, Norsworthy continues to carry aspirations of his future. He has his sights on becoming a head coach, an athletic director or a professional coach. "I still have those dreams," he said.
Norsworthy had other options to consider when Steve Mullins, Tech head coach from 1997-2012, stepped down as head coach, but he chose to stay at Tech. "I love Russellville," he said. "I would like this to be my home, but as a coach you can’t set your roots too deep."
The coach has so much drive for the Wonder Boys that he puts in 80-100 hours per week. "Everybody wants to be a coach until they realize how much work it is," Norsworthy said. Starting on Sunday, Norsworthy watches game film from 12:30 p.m. until a staff meeting in the early afternoon. Taking a break for dinner, he studies until around 10 p.m., reviewing game tape. The process begins again on Monday, when he watches film until personal meetings with players around 10 a.m. After lunch and practice in the afternoon, he returns to tapes until around 9 p.m. Tuesday is a short day, when he only works until 8 p.m. and Thursday provides a day off, but on Wednesday and Friday Norsworthy restarts the Monday routine.
The Wonder Boys keep him moving. "The players keep me going," Norsworthy said. "They (fans, players, coaches) only care about the now, so you focus on the kids and that is the motivation every day."
The 2012-13 teams are rushing to the top of Norsworthy’s favorites in his coaching career. "Tanner transferred with one year of eligibility left. Luke Halpin did the same. They entrusted me with their careers." To see his players achieve their goals and dreams is as rewarding as anything he has ever done before, Norsworthy said.
So the coach will keep pushing the Wonder Boys to be offensive powerhouses on the playing field. Even though the Wonder Boys have faced defeat already this season, he is confident that quarterback Halpin will be setting records. "He is on pace for 3,000 yards and a 60 percent pass completion. He can blow that out of the water here," Norsworthy said.
The offensive coordinator has high goals for the team this season. But regardless of the outcome on the scoreboard, his passion for the game will never cease. "There is nothing quite like that game time football experience," Norsworthy said. "It is kinda like a drug—you just can’t get enough."