Darkness painted the sky as a frigid mixture of rain and snow covered Norris and his fellow soldiers. Norris was up all night pulling guard. As he watched over the camp filled with sleeping soldiers he could barely hold his rifle. After hours of the treacherous stillness of the night, Norris wrestled with himself,
“Why am I doing this? I could just get up and give up, head back onto the warm bus and it will drive me back and I could just turn everything in and go home.”
But Norris knew that was the easy way out. “How do I want to be remembered?”, the question that was driving him through his lowest points. Norris wanted nothing more than to leave a legacy.
“He’s himself no matter what, he doesn’t change faces for people,” Cole said. Which is how additional teammate, Michael Williams and Norris became friends. “We don’t change for people,” Williams said. Williams sees Norris as the guy who’s always doing things most people aren’t willing to do, “like you’re in bed, you’re not gonna get up at 6 am to go to the store,” Williams said, “well he does that.”
“They broke me down to the lowest point and then built me back up,” Norris said. During training, Norris felt like a game system. He had absolutely no control over his own life. Norris found himself asking “who am I when I am stripped of pride, dignity, thinking skills?” Norris had to find who he was when his own name was even taken from him. “All you have are your inner thoughts,” he said. He had to decide if in spite of what he was lacking does he keep going or does he walk away from it all?
Aside from the military, Norris has always had a passion for the medical field, “I’m all about helping people,” he said. After four years of serving, Norris decided that he wanted to pursue a college degree at Bethel University and play his football, “I didn’t want the military to run my life,” Norris said. He dreams of one day starting his own free clinic for people who can’t afford insurance.
Norris integrated right in with the other football players. “Part of that is his spirit,” AJ Parnell, Assistant Coach-Defensive Line and Special Teams, said, “who he is, how engaging he is, his personality. Guys are just drawn to him.”
Norris will often come yelling into the locker room radiating his high energy and doesn’t go unnoticed. “You’ll always know when he’s in the room,” teammate Andrew Cole said, who also serves in the military.
Football Coaches AJ Parnell and Mike McElroy, Bethel’s Defensive Coordinator, noticed something different about Norris when he joined the team. “There’s a maturity about him,” McElroy said, “he hasn’t taken a normal path like a lot of other freshmen.”
Norris serves as a reminder to not only the players but the coaches to not always be so serious. He’s the guy everyday at the end of practice to ask the coach for a joke despite the circumstance. “Whether he screwed up, got yelled at or didn’t do what he was supposed to do,” McElroy said, “the heart posture for him is ‘alright let’s have a good time.’”
“He’s the same way at football as he is outside of that,” Coach Parnell said.
When Coach Parnell thinks of Phil he imagines the time when his family had Phil over for Easter dinner. Norris didn’t prefer the main dish but happily chose a heaping amount of mashed potatoes instead. “That’s how he is,” Coach Parnell said, “he finds something good in everything, despite circumstances.”