NORMAN — Jay Norvell excitedly moved from group to group Tuesday morning with a pen and a piece of paper, keeping an eye out for any youngsters showing exceptional effort.
“We give out hustle awards every day,” Norvell said. “It’s amazing how a wrist band, or a sticker, or a ball cap for hustling changes a kid’s attitude about playing hard.
“The next day, they’ll be climbing all over each other to try to get a wrist band or a T-shirt.”
The fourth annual Jay Norvell Football Camp concludes Wednesday at Whittier Middle School, wrapping up what the Sooners’ co-offensive coordinator calls one of his favorite events of each year. And to think four years ago, Norvell wasn’t sure he’d have time for it.
Jason Olsen, who works for the City of Norman’s Parks and Recreation department, approached Norvell about taking over after the camp’s previous host, former OU assistant Chris Wilson, left Norman for Mississippi State.
“We’re just so busy in the spring and summer with recruiting, I didn’t know if I could do it,” Norvell said. “But it’s really one of the funnest things I do all year. I still like to run around and laugh, and jump around with the guys. It’s still a game to me.”
The close to 80 campers, ranging from ages 8 to 14, don’t wear pads. Instead, they focus on things like proper running form, backpedaling and catching. Much of the camp is also spent playing organized touch football games and battling in tug-of-war competitions.
“I love to see the tug of war, because it’s very rare kids this young have to strain that hard to do something,” Norvell said. “It’s like they’re surprised that when they pull it, nothing’s moving. They have to keep pulling and keep pulling. That’s a great learning situation that we teach them in camp.”
Norvell is aided each year by former Sooner receivers and brothers Travis and Corey Wilson. This year, former Norman North and Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton, OU graduate assistant Corey Callens and Norvell’s brother Aaron, a former Wisconsin linebacker who now works as an actor in Los Angeles, are also helping.
Travis Wilson, who played for OU between 2002 and 2005, is entering his second season coaching at Dallas’ Parish Episcopal School.
“It’s definitely a part of the year I look forward to,” he said. “(Working with younger kids) is a little bit of an adjustment, but at the same time, I’m a kid at heart.
“It’s not as stressful. It’s a lot more relaxed and fun, and the things that come out of their mouths will keep you very entertained. Time flies by with them.”
Norvell, who has been at Oklahoma since 2008 and also spent time on NFL coaching staffs in Indianapolis and Oakland, said the camp serves as an annual reminder of why he loves football so much.
“Kids need to be encouraged,” Norvell said. “We have a couple kids who maybe don’t get that attention when they go to other sports teams or games, but they come out here and give effort, and if you encourage that effort, you get more effort.
“It’s no different than we do with our OU players. You catch a kid doing something good and you praise him for it, all of a sudden he can’t wait to do it again.”