However, Norton's career as a Bulldog has come to an abrupt halt. After a season that held so much promise, but filled with disappointment, he has decided it's time for a fresh start.
"I don't regret coming to Fresno," Norton said. "I met my future wife here. I am really thankful for the fans that rooted for me."
On Monday morning Norton went into Hill's office and asked for his release. Hill obliged and granted it to him.
"Everything went well, of course there were differences. After I spoke with Hill, I went over to talk to Coach Hagen. Hagen was disappointed we weren't going to be working together anymore. But both were gracious and said they would do everything they could to help me."
Norton says he has great respect for Coach Hagen. After the Boise State game, Norton had little contact with Coach Hill. In fact, he says, Hagen was the one that told him he would not be starting another game at quarterback, not coach Hill.
"At halftime [Boise State] Coach Hill approached me and asked me how I was feeling. I said fine. I didn't have a great first half but I said the second would be better." Norton says after he told Coach Hill that, Coach Hill responded with, "We're going to go with Tommy in the second half."
Norton says he didn't talk to Coach Hill from that point until he had started to feel sick from the mononucleosis, which was the day after the New Mexico State game. After Norton spoke with Coach Hill about being sick, he had little or no contact with team from that point on. He didn't practice or attend practice for the rest of the season. And most of his teammates have no clue he was going to, and did, ask for his release.
"Most teammates don't know. They will find out tomorrow by reading the paper."
Norton plans on leaving after the fall semester. Depending on what schools are interested, he could be ready to enroll as early as the first week of January.
"The plan is to leave after the fall semester. I am willing to go anywhere. I was born and raised on and would like to stay on the West Coast. If a school is on the quarter system, I would like to enroll for the start of the third quarter. But some start as early as January 3rd or 4th, that's cutting it close, but I'm open-minded."
His departure from Fresno State is not a surprise too many Bulldog fans, who have speculated he would be looking to transfer after the season he endured. Some suspect he didn't get a fair shake at the starting quarterback position, others felt Brandstater was the right choice. However, after the way Brandstater concluded his season, almost all Bulldog fans were hoping Norton was going to return and compete for the job in the spring.
In the spring of 2003 Coach Hill was quoted as saying, " Jeff Grady is our biggest recruit," referring to the then senior quarterback who was considering transferring or leaving the program after he lost his starting job to redshirt freshman Paul Pinegar in the fall of 2002. Hill feared not having an experienced, "quality" backup in case Pinegar got injured. However, it seems Hill is not too concerned about losing Norton.
"I can't speak for the coaches. With all the rumors, I suspect they knew about the possibility of me asking for my release. I am not sure if it was a surprise."
With Norton now gone, Fresno State returns just two scholarship quarterbacks, Brandstater and redshirt Ryan Colburn. Brandstater has just endured the worst season for a Fresno State starting quarterback since Adrian Claiborne and Richie Donati split time in 1994 and Colburn is still an unproven talent.
Coach Hill has displayed a lot of faith in his starting quarterbacks in the past but none more than ever then in 2006. Throughout the poor quarterback play and bad losses, Hill has stood behind Brandstater; even to go so far as to lay blame on other players for the lack of success in the team's passing game.
Coach Hill stated after the Hawaii game, when Norton came in relief for the lackluster play of Brandstater, that "He made plays." He also said that Norton made the most with his time. But a few weeks later he said that Norton didn't "close the gap" against Hawaii. It was said despite Norton having the best passing performance of any Bulldog quarterback this season. And he only played a little more than two quarters in that game versus the Warriors.
Coach Hill must be expecting big improvements in Brandstater for 2007, and has a lot of faith in his freshmen, Colburn, and incoming true Matt Faulkner from Texas. Many fans are hoping Hill will sign a JUCO quarterback to compete for the starting job, hopefully in spring but at least for fall camp. But it is a farfetched dream.
Besides Faulkner, Fresno State has received another verbal commit from a high school quarterback in Northern California. The likelihood of Hill "wasting" a scholarship on a JUCO that may or may not be able to learn the system in a few months is bleak.
Norton says Hill recruited him in hopes that he could play quarterback at the next level. Norton still believes he is the better quarterback and few fans will ague with that, but is excited to get fresh start in his career.
"I am just looking to go to a school where I can get a chance to start and get some wins. I learned a lot about college football at Fresno State, about the business of college football and I plan on taking what I learned with me to the next school."
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