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Crossing The Goal Line

May 2017 | by Craig DeVrieze

Nate Norman finished his St. Ambrose Fighting Bees football career by rushing for 2,069 yards in the fall of 2002, still the best single-season total by an SAU running back and by nearly 400 yards.

He finished as one of only five two-time NAIA All-Americans in Bees football history and one of just eight SAU players named Player of the Year in the Mid-States Football Association.

Nate finished with 11 games rushing for 200 or more yards - more than third of the 32 such games in Bees football history. He also finished third in career rushing yards (5,046) and touchdowns (38).

Nate Norman finished a lot of things at St. Ambrose.

What he did not finish was his work toward an SAU degree.

On May 13, 14 years after he left school early in pursuit of a career in the Canadian Football League, Nate finally and officially finished.

"I promised Coach (Todd) Sturdy and my Dad in a meeting that I would come back and finish what I started," Nate remembered of a conversation that preceded his departure to chase an opportunity to play professional football. "That's been weighing on me for almost 15 years now."

Nate left Davenport after receiving a contract from the Ottawa Renegades in the spring of 2003. It was an opportunity he chose over the possibility of being signed to the practice squad of the NFL's then-St. Louis Rams later in the summer.

"I had to take the sure thing," he said. "It was probably a mistake."

His CFL stint lasted only two weeks, although Nate spent a couple more years working out and seeking professional opportunities.

In 2006, he returned to SAU to work as a graduate assistant on Sturdy's staff and successfully completed all but six hours of his unfinished class work. But when Sturdy left the following spring to become head coach at Eastern Washington University, Nate left too, and those two remaining classes went unfinished as well.

Not unforgotten, however.

In the intervening years, Nate met and married his wife, Nachelle, and they welcomed daughters Gracie and Alivia into their lives. In 2010, he joined the family business, Norman and Sons, a specialized industrial equipment supply company near Galena, Ill.

Still he said the unkept promise followed him through the years like a couple of linebackers chasing him down on an open-field run.

"Knowing how close you are to finishing something weighs on you," he said. "My father never really brought it up. He's not like that. But if you make a promise, he expects you to keep it."

Ron Norman said the subject did come up at least once. That was during a return visit to St. Ambrose, while walking alongside pictures of Fighting Bees' Athletics Hall of Fame inductee. Nate, the father noted, met all the criteria for selection, save one. An SAU degree is a ticket required for passage.

"'You should be up here,'" Ron recalled telling his son.

Ron was on hand with the rest of the Norman family when Nate was awarded his Bachelor of Elected Studies degree. "It means a lot," the father said. "He had a great football career at St. Ambrose and we enjoyed the Saturday afternoon games and the camaraderie with other parents. But this is what we sent him to school for. It has come full circle."

Nate Norman is pleased to cross this goal line, but he said he's not finished.

He will lean on his education and possibly pursue a master's degree to help Norman and Sons grow, but that may not be the only business his education will serve.

Nate currently is overseeing four colonies of bees at apiaries in Galena and near his home in Princeton, Ill. He plans to expand and hopes to enter the honey business.

That's right. Finally a promise-keeper, the former Bee plans to become a commercial beekeeper.

How's that for a nice finish?

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