Louisiana State hung with Alabama until the middle of third quarter eight days ago, then gave up the last 21 points and lost 38-17 to Nick Saban’s dynastic Crimson Tide. This was the third loss of the season and put the Tigers in position to be the most talented team America won’t see in a BCS game.
“We were right there with them in the second half, but beating Alabama in its stadium is so tough,” Heather Van Norman said. “We did it to them over there when Odell was a freshman … the season that they got us back in the national championship game.”
Odell Beckham Jr. is a junior receiver and returner for the Tigers. A 6-foot, 195-pound jet, he is expected to announce for the NFL draft, and most projections have him being selected in the middle of the second round.
Van Norman is Odell’s mother. She is also Minnesota’s greatest sprinter in girls track for her exploits at Windom High School.
From 1985 through her senior season of 1988, Heather won the “quadruple triple” — four years of victories in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races in the state Class 1A tournament.
Back then, her dad, Don, said: “The high school kids here like to hang their medals on their letter jackets. If Heather pinned her medals on her letter jacket, she would be bulletproof.”
Heather reluctantly spent a year at the University of Minnesota. She had second thoughts after signing a letter of intent, but the Gophers would not give her a release until she spent a year at Minnesota.
Heather did so and then transferred to LSU. In 1992, she was trying to reach the Olympic trials and lamented as to how she could not get her weight under 140 pounds.
Turned out, she was pregnant. The father was Tigers football player Odell Beckham. Heather gave birth to Odell Jr. in November 1992, completed a standout track career at LSU and moved into coaching.
She is now in her second season as the women’s track and field and cross-country coach at Nicholls State. She lives in New Orleans with 11-year-old daughter Jasmyne. Heather makes the hour commute daily to Nicholls, in Thibodaux, La., to the shore of Bayou Lafourche.
And on fall weekends, Van Norman figures out a way to balance coaching and being in attendance for her son’s games.
“I didn’t go to the home games regularly when I was a student at LSU,” Heather said. “I loved the excitement a football game brought to campus, but inside ‘Death Valley’ … it was just too crazy for me.”
Two decades later, Heather has taken in all available LSU football craziness.
“What makes me proud of Odell is the way he goes about being a talented athlete,” she said. “He truly is a humble person. He is as excited for the success of a teammate as he is for himself.”
LSU-Alabama was the featured attraction on CBS last Saturday. Pregame, there was a feature on Beckham and his background as the child of two LSU athletes.
Among those interviewed was Shaquille O’Neal, a buddy of Odell Sr.’s while at LSU, and referred to as “Uncle Shaq” by Odell Jr.
The strongest male presence in Odell Jr.’s life has been Derek Mills, Heather’s longtime companion and the father of Jasmyne. He was a gold medalist as a member of the United States 400-meter relay team in the 1996 Olympics.
“Derek basically has been Odell’s stepdad and a tremendous influence for him,” Heather said. “We’ve been fortunate to have Derek in our lives.”
Heather has offered the go-to quote in profile pieces on the talent her son brings to the football field: “He hit the genetic jackpot.”
Heather and her brother Mark were adopted by Don and Millie Van Norman of Windom. There were two other children, daughter Pat and son Alan. The Van Normans’ oldest child, Larry, died at 12 when he was playing with a friend in a gravel pit and an ice formation fell on him.
The Van Normans are retired in Panama City, Fla. They are Dad and Mom to Heather and Grampa and Grandma to Odell Jr. and Jasmyne.
“I still love Windom,” Heather said by cellphone as she was jogging near Bayou Lafourche last week. “I didn’t always know it then, but what a great place to grow up.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org