Ex-Chants Norman, Tolbert’s ascent nothing short of super

col-tbuzz-2Coastal Carolina products Josh Norman and Mike Tolbert had already made their alma mater proud this season by making the Pro Bowl. Scratch that: Now the pair of Carolina Panthers are headed where no ex-Chant has been before – the Super Bowl.

I suppose it’s the next logical step for the 13-year-old football program. The roots planted by inaugural coach David Bennett and the blossoming that has taken place under Joe Moglia are coming to fruition at the NFL level. Not bad for a small school that went from practicing in cow pastures to putting two players in the most watched game around the world.

But perhaps more impressive than the fact that there are more former Chants playing in Super Bowl 50 than Clemson and South Carolina combined and the same number as Alabama are the stories of the Coastal duo. Unlike many of the football-factory products who made it to the NFL on talent alone, Norman and Tolbert are tales in how far hard work and dedication can take you.

Tolbert was a member of Coastal’s first team in 2003. Arriving as a bowling ball of a fullback, he looked more at home with the linemen. But his skill set for a big man was mind-blowing, and it was his well-rounded game that made him a pro prospect, albeit as an undrafted rookie free agent. His ability to run, catch, block and get you 1 yard when you really needed one landed him a role with the San Diego Chargers, but he wanted to come back close to home and play for Carolina.

Newman arrived shortly after with little fanfare. He had few offers out of high school due to academic issues, so he came to Coastal and slept on his big brother’s couch to take classes and gain eligibility. He opted to play at Coastal and quickly showed flashes of why he became the fourth-round pick of the Panthers in 2012. After a tough rookie start and a couple of benchings, Norman is now considered the best cornerback in the NFL and one of the league’s top personalities.

They play key roles for the Panthers. Norman is the shot-down corner assigned to cover the opponents’ top receiver, which is one of the reasons he may be quiet in some big wins. When QBs aren’t throwing in his direction, he’s doing his job. Tolbert is harder to miss, putting himself in the middle of the Panthers’ offense. He doesn’t get many touches, but look out when he does. Tolbert also keeps Cam Newton safe in the pocket and paves holes for Johnathon Stewart.

There have been other NFL success stories to come out of Coastal (quarterback Tyler Thigpen enjoyed seven NFL season and wide receiver Jerome Simpson has been a human highlight reel when he isn’t suspended), but to see these two reach the top level of the sport is a credit to the Chanticleer program. Much like the Chants, they came virtually out of nowhere (or at least Conway) and they are the product of hard work and commitment to excel. Their achievements are nothing short of super.

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