Ex-Wolverine Norfleet moves forward with Tuskegee

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Former Michigan returner Dennis Norfleet (18) had 90 all-purpose yards in his debut last week for Tuskegee.

Dennis Norfleet endured a few days of homesickness, and he watched his former team play in a wildly hyped season opener, but the Detroit native is happy in a new place now, playing football and moving forward.

Norfleet, released from his Michigan scholarship by new coach Jim Harbaugh, is now a running back for the Tuskegee Golden Tigers in Alabama and earned Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Week honors for his performance in their season-opening 26-0 victory last week of Clark Atlanta last week.

The senior, who played for Detroit King, had 90 all-purpose yards in his first game for Tuskegee, including rushing, receiving and kick return yards. He had seven rushes — including the first carry of the game – for 27 yards, and he caught one pass for 46. Norfleet, who left Michigan as the record-holder for career kickoff return yards (2,203) returned one kickoff for 17 yards and had a 29-yard punt return called back.

“I haven’t touched a ball since when I got done with Michigan for spring ball — that was the last time I touched the field,” Norfleet said during a telephone interview Thursday with The Detroit News. “I felt comfortable. I’ve been doing this a long time, so I knew what I was doing. It was pretty big they came to me the first play, but I was ready. I played a lot of positions at Michigan, so I’m just playing football.”

Norfleet thought he would be play his final season for the Wolverines this fall.

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In May, King coach Dale Harvell told The News that Norfleet had been kicked out of school. Harbaugh later told reporters he had conversations with Norfleet and “a plan was put in place.” He said it was his desire that Norfleet remain at Michigan and get his degree.

For his part, Norfleet said there are no hard feelings, although he’s disappointed and misses playing with his teammates.

“To be honest, everything caught me off-guard,” Norfleet said. “It just happened. (Harbaugh and I) weren’t seeing eye to eye. Nothing real big. We had disagreements but nothing serious. He thought I was going to be ineligible, and I wasn’t. He is real big on academics. That’s one thing I can say about Jim Harbaugh — he’s going to make sure these players are going to class.”

Norfleet said Harbaugh never told him he wanted him on the team.

“I never got that at all,” Norfleet said. “The only thing I got was, come back a semester to get a degree. Not play football. He wanted me to use my scholarship. I still love Michigan, though, as a whole. Sometimes, you’ve got to move on.”

He did watch Michigan play its season opener at Utah last Thursday night.

“I enjoyed seeing my roommate (Willie Henry) play,” Norfleet said, adding he texted Henry after the game about missing a tackle. “I’m close to a lot of guys on that team.

“I still got love for Michigan, but my heart is at Tuskegee. I’m starting a new beginning, so I’m not looking back. They’re my brothers, and I’m looking for them to have a great season. It’s hard, but it’s life. At the end of the day I can continue to watch them on TV and call them and shoot them a text, but my mind is on Tuskegee.”

Norfleet arrived in Alabama in early August and said it took a few days to adjust. He missed his daughter Ana-yla’s second birthday in Detroit late last month and missed his family.

“I’m a long ways from my daughter,” said Norfleet, who said he could potentially graduate in December. “I enjoy being with her, and I spent a lot of time with her before I came down here.”

After five weeks, Norfleet has adjusted and said Tuskegee now feels like home. The Golden Tigers are preparing to play Albany State on Saturday.

“The first couple days I was homesick,” he said. “I kind of shied away from everybody for a few days. It was on me to make friends and move on from the past. I’ve been getting good vibes from everybody. It was easy (to build friendships). You work hard, and guys like you. I always work hard, and I’m starting to get close to guys.

“I’m fitting in pretty good. The guys are helping me pretty well with the plays. I ask questions, and they help, and they don’t make a big deal out of that. We’re all getting along. They keep me together.”

His new teammates have told him he talks funny, and Norfleet said they’re the ones with the strange accents. It’s all part of getting acclimated to a new environment and new teammates.

“They don’t use vowels down here,” Norfleet said, laughing.

Norfleet was always smiling when he was playing at Michigan, and he’s still smiling now at Tuskegee. He has moved on, and he’s content.

“God works in mysterious ways,” Norfleet said. “I’m playing good, I’m feeling good. Everything is going well. There’s nothing to be down about.”