Brainerd High School all-state defensive back Joseph Norwood had to wait a bit longer than most other football recruits, but Wednesday morning he got the call he was hoping for from University of Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Norwood accepted the offer of a delayed scholarship, thanked the Tennessee staff, then dropped the phone and began to cry after getting the news from the Volunteers' new head coach.
"I can't explain what this means to me," Norwood said. "Coach Pruitt asked me if I was ready to sing 'Rocky Top' today, and I told him I sure was.
"When I was on my visit, there's a sign hanging over the door of the locker room that all the players touch on their way out to the field. It says, 'I will give my all for Tennessee,' and nobody has ever touched that sign and given their all more than I will for UT."
Norwood sent in his national letter of intent to the football office Wednesday evening and will be considered a blueshirt signee, which means his scholarship begins at the start of preseason practice. Also under blueshirt guidelines, he will be allowed to practice with the team once preseason camp begins but will not play this season.
"All that matters to him is that he's a Vol," Brainerd coach Tyrus Ward said. "He will get to practice as part of the team and begin showing what he can do this fall, and honestly, not playing this season will allow him to get a little bigger and adjust to the speed of the college game.
"I shed tears on my way to the school today because I know how much work the kid has put in and how much this meant to him. When I came back to my alma mater I dreamed of being able to help kids like Joseph, so this is really a big deal for me, too."
Norwood did not play football his junior season and had never played defense before 2017, when he played both safety and cornerback for Brainerd. He was rated a three-star prospect by most recruiting services by the time the season ended.
"No disrespect to anybody else, but those stars don't matter anymore," Norwood said. "It's all about how hard you're willing to work when you get your shot. I'll listen to the coaches and work as hard as anybody they've ever seen to get on the field and represent Tennessee the right way.
"I grew up a crazy Tennessee fan, so this just means I can still be a crazy fan, only I get to wear the uniform and get out on the field and try to make plays."
Norwood made 107 tackles, 10 for lost yardage, intercepted five passes and recovered three of the four fumbles he caused. He also averaged 14 yards per touch on offense and scored eight touchdowns.
He has been clocked at 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash, won the long jump state championship last spring with a leap of 22 feet, 9 inches and averages a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in basketball.
In the past two months the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Norwood went from zero college scholarship offers to 16, including from Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss, Tulane, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Georgia State, Coastal Carolina and Massachusetts. He was also heavily recruited and evaluated by Georgia Tech and Nebraska.
This story was updated Feb. 7, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.