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Southmoore football: Coach Josh Norman returns to city he once helped rebuild

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Josh Norman

Josh Norman stands in the SaberCats' weight room at Southmoore High School on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Norman was hired as the SaberCats' head football coach on Dec. 19. (Joe Buettner / The Transcript)

Why would Southmoore want Josh Norman?

It’s a question Norman grappled with in attempts to identify what made him the best candidate to be the SaberCats’ next head football coach.

Southmoore ultimately hired Norman this past December, making him the program’s fourth-ever head coach. And the answer to Norman’s question didn’t materialize until he was en route to Moore from Oklahoma City for his initial interview for the position.

“I ended up driving through the neighborhood that I used to live in,” Norman said. “And all of these memories and experiences started flooding in.”

The Midland, Texas, native lived in Moore when an EF5 tornado viciously marched through the city on May 20, 2013.

He stood side by side with Moore’s citizens to rebuild what the tornado destroyed, teaching him firsthand the community’s character.

He saw Moore’s selflessness through the care people had for their neighbors. He observed their resilience in the wake of a challenging time and the strength they needed to pick themselves up.

“When they come back,” he said. “They come back even stronger.”

Witnessing the community’s grit through it all and assisting with those efforts encouraged Norman he could provide the SaberCats with more than just another football coach.

“This place is special to me,” he said.

Nearly seven years have passed since that horrific day, which killed 24 people and injured over 200 others. But the details of that Monday afternoon remain as vivid to Norman as if they unfolded the day before.

Norman didn’t have appropriate shelter at his Moore home. So, he attempted to seek refuge at a friend’s home in Oklahoma City after receiving a mobile alert for a tornado warning in the area.

First, he needed to stop at a gas station on Northwest 5th Street, along Interstate-35, in Moore, where it started hailing as he fueled his vehicle.

Not wanting to drive in the hail, he went inside the small Valero station but the clerk told him they didn’t have a storm shelter. He considered crossing the street to a nearby shopping center but determined it wasn’t any safer of an option.

Norman then noticed a BancFirst just south of the gas station and waited out the tornado with 30-40 people inside the bank’s vault.

“It was one of the most terrifying moments in my life because at that point, the path that it was on, it was headed directly toward us,” Norman said.

“I just knew we were going to get hit. And I was praying and asking God for strength. Even if we got hit, I was like, ‘Okay, we probably won’t die. But Lord, give me strength to help these people get through this.’”

The tornado missed the bank by half a mile.

Norman’s home was also untouched.

So, he got to work with the rest of the community.

Norman helped Moore residents dig through the rubble in neighborhoods not as fortunate as his own.

His family in Midland even rented a U-Haul truck and packed it with donations gathered from around the Texas town, drove it to Moore and passed out water and supplies to those in need.

Norman’s love and admiration for the city through that period helped him realize why Southmoore was right for him, and why he thought he was right for Southmoore.

“I really stood on that passion more than anything as I cast my vision,” Norman said. “... I helped rebuild this community before. You know, who better to help rebuild a football program than somebody who has been here at one of the most tragic, but yet pivotal, points in the city.”

Norman recognizes turning around a team, which went 1-9 last season, will be a challenge.

Norman says he left the interview process, however, believing Southmoore has the right foundation to be a successful program.

“This place has really good bones,” Norman said, “and with the right structure and the right culture, could definitely be turned into a dominant program in the state.”

Joe Buettner is a sports reporter for the Norman Transcript. You can contact him at (405) 366-3557 or jbuettner@normantranscript.com.

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