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Chuck Meyers / WVU athletics

Those who heard the emergency call come across the Valdosta Police scanner 17 years ago still cannot forget the terror that night.

"I remember that one," said Brad Shealy, the Lowndes County district attorney. "That was horrible."

On that May 2003 evening in Georgia, Veronica Norwood had run from a mobile home after being doused by gasoline and lit on fire by her boyfriend, according to police. Norwood, 24, suffered third-degree burns over 90% of her body.

Reports said she was put in a medically induced coma for eight months and was actually released from the hospital before dying in February 2004 due to complications.

Her boyfriend at the time of the incident, Anthony Demetrius Brown, is serving a life sentence for her murder.

That night, a 6-year-old Josh Norwood was with his mother.  Next month, he turns 24 and with a degree in multidisciplinary studies and a heart burdened by sorrow. This weekend will go a long way to determining whether the West Virginia safety has an NFL future.

Happiness remains relative.

"Josh doesn't show a lot of emotion," said his aunt, Amanda Tymes. "I think he carries it with him. He has his mother's name tattooed on him. He remembers. He doesn't really talk about it a lot. He holds it in."

This is an NFL Draft story you won't read anywhere else simply because parts of it are too depressing to comprehend. Nonetheless, it is a story that must be told because its end holds so much hope with an overall lack of hype.

Norwood is at the margins of the draft. His college career included stops at three schools, and now at the end, an uncertain future.

"I'm just preparing myself mentally for life," he said. "Whatever goes wrong, you put your best foot forward. That's how I'm preparing, giving me a taste of how life will be as a professional."

It can't be any worse than growing up without a mom.

The bottom line rules this weekend. To get selected in the 2020 NFL Draft would be a life-changing event for Norwood and his family. Something deserves to go right for the 22-year-old Valdosta native.

Norwood played for one of the most powerful programs in the country, Valdosta High School. He spent one year at Ohio State in a secondary so talented every cornerback who started for then-defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs from 2012-17 reached the NFL.

He transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College in 2017 because he "had to get more playing time." That same year, his 19-year-old sister was shot and killed while riding in a car with a man. Geneva's case remains unsolved.

"Don't have much more than what we did to begin with," Shealy said. "I guess it's just like a cold case. It's just not that old."

How does anyone keep their faith during such upheaval?

"It was hard," Tymes said. "You always question God."

With that backdrop, Norwood has carved out an impressive career that ended with All-Big 12 second team recognition in 2019. Impressive, at least, because he has held it together during dark times.

"You learn to deal with things yourself," Norwood said. "Not just keeping things to myself, just with dealing with things on my own. I don't have too many crutches around me if something went wrong.

"When I left Ohio State, that was a difficult transition because nobody thought I'd make it back to Division I. Everybody thought I was dropping out of school."

There's nothing to be ashamed of in college football's transfer culture. At NMCC, Norwood made all-conference. He then bounced back to FBS where West Virginia coach Neal Brown converted him to safety. That was a high-risk, high-reward move with one season of eligibility remaining.

In the third-to-last game of his career, Norwood broke his collarbone making an interception against Kansas State. His college career, which was finally gaining momentum, ended early.

"Probably the best play of his college career," Brown said.

Before that spectacular interception, Norwood had twice been ejected for targeting in 2019.

"Josh has what they call 'dawg' in him. He is aggressive," West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning told WVmetronews.com.

As for the tragedies, Norwood prefers not to reveal much. His grandparents took him in -- along with three siblings -- after his mother's murder.

A sister, Jakeriya, was also with their mother at the time of her assault. Jakeriya was only 3 years old back then, a time in development when memories are just beginning to form.

"I think she actually remembered more than we thought she would," Tymes said of Jakeriya. "She's the one that had the hardest time adjusting."

Is she OK now?

"I don't know. It led to a lot of stuff, her getting in trouble. I think it took a toll on her," Tymes said.

"They were both difficult," Norwood said. "But I never let that faze me. I never let that get between where I want to go in life. My goal is taking care of my family."

There is that unspoken pressure. In a way, Norwood will have freedom if he isn't drafted. He can strike a deal with any of the 32 teams as an undrafted free agent, which for some can be a better option than being selected in the sixth or seventh round as prospects and their agents are able to pick destinations where players have a better chance of seeing the field.

As such, this is the most important weekend of his life. It may determine whether he has an NFL career.

It has taken a village in Valdosta. Geneva Knight is that 74-year-old grandmother who took in four grandchildren when her daughter was murdered. Tymes more than played her part, too.

"I had to bury my sister," Tymes said. "My mom was just not capable of doing that. Then, when my niece came around, I pretty much had to do the same thing. I'm the one that's always kind of coming in and helping out. I kind of have to keep it together for everybody else."

Norwood is the sweet one who would do anything for his auntie. He is the strong one who became a leader and a man, when he was in middle school.

"He made a 90-degree turn, and he was a good boy," Knight said.

Now, Norwood dares to compare his game to
Tyrann Mathieu or Richard Sherman. Why not? Nothing has knocked him down to this point.

They will all be together this weekend – Josh, Amanda, Geneva and her husband Willie along with family and friends -- stuck to the TV with their hopes mixed together.

"He deserves a chance. He deserves it all," Knight said.

"Y'all get him drafted now."