Forty-four football seasons ago, the 1967 Thomson Bulldogs won the first of the school's five state championships.
This was a team of stars: senior Andy Knox would be named Class A Lineman of the Year. Junior Ray Guy would make all-state and be named Class A Back of the Year in his senior season. Sophomore Tommy Williamson would be named Class A Back of the Year in 1969, his senior season. Glenn Reese, Mac Bowman and Jerry Randolph would play at the next level.
Flying somewhat under the radar, however; was Bobby Norris. While starting at defensive end, he moved from the more glamorous position of halfback to tackle on offense when an injury to a teammate made that adjustment necessary. Oddly, Norris continued to wear his No. 32 jersey despite playing on the offensive line. Then, that was not against the rules.
The unselfishness exhibited by Norris was spread throughout the team and is one reason for its success. Paul Leroy, coach of that team, cited Norris as very possibly the hardest hitter that he coached in his six seasons leading the Bulldogs. In fact, in the state championship game against Westminster in Atlanta, the game was tied at zero when the Wildcats drove to the Thomson 5 early in the fourth quarter. Then, Norris hit fullback Chip Wisdom, a future all-SEC linebacker at Georgia and a college football coach for many years, forcing a fumble. The Bulldogs would score 20 unanswered points to win.
Despite his accomplishments, at 5 feet 11 inches and 180 pounds, Norris received no college scholarship offers. Coach Leroy took him to Clinton, S.C., to try out at Presbyterian College. In a tackling drill, Norris immediately drew the attention of Blue Hose line coach Billy Tiller, who called head coach Cally Gault over to observe the hard-hitting former Bulldog. Norris was offered a scholarship and it proved to be his only offer. Many schools would soon regret the oversight.
Norris started all four seasons he played at Presbyterian as a linebacker from 1968-71. Then wearing No. 65, he started every game for the Blue Hose during his career and averaged 12 tackles and seven assists per game during those four seasons. Appropriately, his senior year, in which he stood at 6 feet even and weighed 202, would prove to be his most outstanding. As one of three team captains, he led his team to an 8-3 record, chalking up an unbelievable 128 individual tackles and 94 assists. He intercepted several passes in his career and returned three for touchdowns.
In 1971, Bobby Norris was named the Columbia Touchdown Club's Defensive Player of the Year. His own coach, Cally Gault, was chosen to present him the award at the Columbia Shrine Club. Furthermore, he was honored as a member of the Kodak Small College All-American team as selected by the American Football Coaches Association and also as a member of the NAIA All-American team.
After several years in the military in which he reached the rank of captain, Norris returned to civilian life and entered the business world.
Since 1995 he has been employed in sales and special projects by Merchants Metal Inc., which specializes in the manufacturing and distribution of fence and fencing products.
No doubt, Bobby Norris brought the same toughness, work ethic and tenacity to the business world that he exhibited on the football field as a state champion Thomson Bulldog and as an All-American for the Presbyterian Blue Hose.
John Barnett has played, coached and observed Thomson athletics for 45 years.