Norberg paves the way for UND’s running backs

GRAND FORKS — In the first season of the Bubba Schweigert Era at the University of North Dakota in 2014, a string of injuries forced Kyle Norberg to convert from linebacker to become the team’s starting running back.

After starting four games in 2014 in the offensive backfield, Norberg was in the mix for carries again to open 2015, but he can remember the play that all but ended his time at tailback.

Late in the first quarter in the 2015 season opener at Wyoming, true freshman John Santiago took a carry up the middle and busted through the line for a 52-yard touchdown run en route to UND’s 24-13 win over the Cowboys.

“At that point, you just had to realize he was more fit for the position than I was,” Norberg said. “They found my role at fullback now, and I embraced it. I really don’t mind. Any chance to play, that’s where I’m happy.”

As UND opens the 2017 season in Utah on Thursday night, Aug. 31, Norberg is a senior fullback leading the way for Santiago, Brady Oliveira and Minnesota Gophers transfer James Johannesson.

The young, talented running backs call Norberg “father.”

“He’s an all-around good guy,” Santiago said. “When I first got here, he was super welcoming. He accepted me into the running back group. He’s one guy I really look up to.”

Norberg is responsible for creating holes for a decorated trio as Santiago is a returning All-American, Oliveira was an all-Big Sky Conference pick a year ago and Johannesson was one of the most dominant runners in North Dakota prep history at Fargo South.

“It’s so exciting to block for those guys,” Norberg said. “I ushered them in when they started their careers. It’s good to be able to have that relationship with them. It’s good to know if I don’t do my job, I’m letting them down. It’s a trust, brotherhood thing.”

Norberg, of Cary Grove, Ill., has played three different positions at UND, but coaches say he’s found his proper home.

At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, long hair and bulging muscles, Norberg definitely looks the part of a fullback. He’s UND’s all-time leader at fullback when it comes to the bench press. He can bench 410 pounds.

“I think he’s got a chance to be one of the more athletic guys we’ve had at that position,” said UND assistant coach Shawn Kostich, who oversees the fullbacks. “He’s what we want to recruit moving forward. We like guys who were a linebacker or a running back. They’re used to contact and you’ve had the ball in your hand. He’s part of that first class for us where we asked a few guys to change positions. A couple people maybe didn’t like what they were hearing. (Norberg) never complained about a single thing. His selflessness is what allows his success.”

Big and strong runs in the blood of Norberg, whose father Bill won the 1988 Amateur Athletic Union’s ‘Mr. America’ body building competition.

Kyle, who majors in nutrition, can see a body building potential future once his football career is over.

“I was raised up with it,” Norberg said of weightlifting. “Ever since I was a kid, he brought me to Lifetime Fitness, and I would be in the kid section.

“I’m not as gifted as some of the top-tier athletes, I know that, but lifting weights has developed me a strong work ethic and that has given me an edge to where I am today.”