If you go by 2016 NFL Draft prospect big board, Toledo defensive back Cheatham Norrils is a player whose path to the NFL may have to come via a camp invite as an undrafted free agent. After missing the 2014 season because of a life-threatening viral infection, however, Norrils realizes any opportunity is a good opportunity.
"I learn from everything that's happened to me," Norrils said during a recent phone interview. "I think that just built me to realize that anything can happen and you've gotta take advantage of the opportunities you do have to live I'm here, and I just know that it's precious. You've gotta enjoy it."
Let's back up for a minute and explain what happened.
Norrils was prepping for his senior season with Toledo, an FBS school, when he said he didn't recover from a "real intense" summer workout. When the pain continued to intensify over the next day or so, Norrils landed in the hospital.
"They didn't know exactly what was wrong or where it came from but they knew for sure I had a viral infection and pneumonia and it just had to run its course," Norrils said. "While I was in the hospital I wasn't worried about football at all. I was mainly worried about surviving."
Norrils lost 40 pounds from his 5-foot-11, 191-pound frame while fighting the infection and was left too weak to play football in 2014. He returned in 2015, made 66 tackles in 12 games and had a career-best three interceptions.
Here is Toledo defensive backs coach DK McDonald discussing Norrils' return to the field in an interview with The Independent Collegian:
"He has a new appreciation for the game, after being told by some people he might not play again. He had a newfound joy to be back on the football field; it was contagious and infectious throughout our secondary."
Here is Norrils on what it meant to him to be able to return to football:
"I'm always going to have something to prove ... I was just trying to prove that I could get to the next level. I was really focused on my senior season and enjoying it because it can be taken away at any time," he said.
"I wouldn't say I took it for granted but sometimes I didn't see the whole picture all the time."
Here is more of what Norrils had to say during our recent chat.
On what it would mean to him to play in the NFL
"My dream since I was younger has been to play at the NFL level, but I was taught early it's a process. It's not something that's handed to you or guaranteed. ... I was taught early that you've gotta work for what you want to get to, and even if you do work hard it's not always guaranteed that it's going to play out the way you want it to. The only thing you can do is work hard to get to where you want to be and then let everything fall in place. Pray and be positive about it all the time."
On what he would bring to an NFL team
"Somebody that's gonna work hard all the time to prove themselves on a daily basis to be able to be the best they can. I feel like I've got the attributes to play at the next level, but of course there's going to be things for you to work on. ... I've got the attributes, the size, speed ... I think I've got some of the numbers to prove that I do have the ability to help out somewhere."
On having experience at corner, in the slot, and at safety
"I played all three positions throughout my college career ... I think I've got the ability. Whatever they need me to learn I feel like I can try to make the adjustment. I think that's what helps me a lot, being versatile."