With a first-degree black belt and a slew of trophies and ribbons, Isaiah Norris is more advanced in karate than football. He hopes that days such as Saturday will help him even the ledger.
Norris, a 15-year-old freshman at Bethel High, was one of dozens of prospects and aspiring prospects at the annual Best of the 757 Football Combine at Christopher Newport.
"This shows me that you need a lot of hard work, a lot of skill, a lot of sportsmanship," Norris said, as the session wound down. "It tells me to use my time wisely and that I need to work hard every day."
Though Norris is new to the camp and combine circuit, he isn't a football novice. He was a standout on three consecutive Aberdeen Raiders' youth league championship teams. He played junior varsity at Bethel last fall and dressed for a varsity game.
He is a solid 6-feet and 170 pounds and wasn't out of place, athletically. He didn't appear the least bit intimidated by the setting or upperclass talent around him.
"I've been competing long enough that I'm pretty much used to having rivalries with other people," he said.
Indeed, Norris has been training in the Shorin-ryu style of karate for eight years. He is a first-degree black belt — there are 10 degrees of black belt within that particular style — and has won local and regional competitions in recent years. He plans to compete at the Virginia Olympic trials next month.
There is plenty of carryover, he said, from karate to football.
"Speed, agility, strength," Norris said, "and you're already in shape, so in football, you're ready to go."
The Best of the 757 combine, in its sixth year overall and fourth at CNU, provided affirmation for many prospects — highly regarded kids such as Phoebus lineman Walter Brantley and Maury cornerback Davion Taylor — and a blueprint for others.
Players were tested in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, power toss and 5x10x5 (yard) shuttle run. Linemen went man-to-man. Skill position players battled each other, and there was a 7-on-7 passing drill session to end the day.
College coaches weren't allowed to attend, but various recruiting services and prep evaluation outfits were on hand to chronicle results.
"I think it's great for the kids," said Heritage coach George Massenburg, one of a handful of local coaches who volunteered their time to run drills and organize the proceedings. "They get a chance to compete against some of the best young athletes in the area and see where they stack up."
Saturday was the beginning of the camp and combine circuit for Gloucester's James Scott. The 6-1, 210-pound rising senior rushed for 1,117 yards last season, splitting time between quarterback and running back, and was productive on defense, as well.
But the Dukes' historic struggles and location as a Peninsula District outpost often makes it difficult for players to get noticed by college recruiters. As a result, he plans to attend a bunch of camps at various colleges in the coming weeks: Old Dominion, Richmond, James Madison, Virginia Tech.
"It's really important," Scott said. "It gives me a chance to do things people didn't see last season. It helps me showcase my abilities and get noticed, so college coaches can come see me this season."
Scott said that he recently received unofficial scholarship offers from Hampton U. and Towson — scholarship offers are "unofficial" until the summer before an athlete's senior year — and that James Madison also expressed interest last week.
Competing against other athletes who have generated major college interest, he said, "lets me know that I'm just as good as these other guys."
Several of Massensburg's players at Heritage have drawn interest, among them sophomore wide receiver and linebacker Dimitri Holloway, sophomore receiver and defensive back Marcus Vanhook, and junior running back and linebacker Juanye Patillo.
"It's good to be out here," said the 6-foot, 185-pound Patillo. "You improve your basic skills and there are a lot of good coaches and teachers. It shows you where you are and where you need to work harder for the season. It's great motivation. I still keep working — keep working like I'm at the bottom."
Vanhook, 5-11 and 170 pounds, said that he came away from Saturday convinced that he was one of the better athletes on the field. But he wasn't the least bit cocky because he knows that everyone around him has the same goal.
"You see all these people out here fighting for scholarships," he said, "and you've got to fight, too. You've got to be the best to get to that next level."
The 168 athletes at the combine weathered searing sun and 90-degree temperatures. It was actually a few degrees warmer on the artificial turf field alongside Pomoco Stadium, where much of the action took place.
"I'd rather be out here," Patillo said. "I love this game. I'll do whatever it takes to make it."