Jenni Carlson: Damian Norris felt a bond with Ollie Gordon almost as soon as the seventh grader walked through his door. The connection between the coach and the player is strong as ever, despite their competing interests Saturday.
Damian Norris has an OU coffee cup in his office, a nod to his longtime devotion to the Sooners.
But a couple years ago, the weightlifting teacher and football assistant at Euless Trinity High School in Dallas-Fort Worth added a bit of unexpected decoration to that mug.
An OSU wristband.
It was a gift from Ollie Gordon.
“I put it on there and I said, ‘I’ll keep it on there just for you,’” Norris said. “And it’s still on there.”
Long before Gordon became the talk of the college football world, the Cowboy tailback was just a kid trying to navigate through life as the only child of a single mother. Talk to anyone who knows his mom, and they’ll say she’s great. (Same for his aunt, who helped raise him.) But Gordon didn’t have a ton of male role models in his life.
Then, he met Norris.
Norris was coaching middle school football and basketball when Gordon first walked through his door as a seventh grader. The coach actually had heard about the kid — word of talented youth football players tends to percolate around the Metroplex — but Gordon was even better than Norris expected.
“We knew from the beginning,” Norris said, “he was going to be something special.”
While Norris coached, he was also the middle school’s athletic coordinator, which including disciplining athletes. He never considered Gordon a bad kid, but the middle schooler was squirrely on occasion.
(What middle schooler isn’t?)
That meant Norris had to be the bad guy with Gordon a few times.
“I know at first, he didn’t think I liked him too much because I was rough on him and I made him accountable,” Norris said.
But even then, Norris and Gordon had a bond.
“We just always kind of had a little connection that we understood each other,” Norris said. “We could laugh with each other. We could joke. But then he also knew when it’s time to get serious.”
When Gordon moved from middle school to high school, so did Norris, becoming a football assistant and powerlifting coach at Euless Trinity.
As Gordon became a sought-after recruit, Norris was there any time Gordon needed help.
In a Bally Sports Southwest piece from Gordon’s senior year, cameras caught him walking up to Norris during practice.
“You’re lucky you’re not in pads,” Gordon said playfully.
“Get outta here,” Norris replied.
Instead, Gordon put his arm over Norris’ shoulder.
“He was that cool coach, always cracking jokes, being funny,” Gordon told Bally Sports Southwest of Norris.
“He’ll hold me accountable and make sure I’m doing the right thing.”
When Gordon announced his commitment to OSU on social media, he thanked family, friends, teammates and coaches. But the only person he mentioned by name was Norris.
“For always being there since 7th grade,” Gordon wrote.
That was about the same time Gordon gave Norris one of his OSU wristbands. Gordon knew, of course, about Norris being an OU fan. He took to the Sooners as a kid even though he didn’t live in Oklahoma.
The reason: he loved watching The Boz.
But when Norris moved to Texas, he relished his love of OU even more.
“Because everybody here seems to hate OU,” Norris said.
He got to be a contrarian, and he loved that.
Still, Gordon’s decision to go to OSU meant Norris had to find a bit of space for a Cowboy in his Sooner-loving heart. Now, that Cowboy might end up being the biggest reason Norris’ team loses Saturday.
Norris, though, can’t help being wildly proud of what Gordon is doing. Norris hasn’t even ruled out wearing some orange and black for Bedlam.
“For you, I would definitely put some on for that game,” Norris told Gordon, “but that’s it. That’s the only time.”
Then again, Norris already has that OSU wristband on his OU coffee cup.
“I gotta keep it on there,” he said. “It just reminds me of him.”