In six years in the National Football League, Jordan Norwood played a limited number of snaps.
With a camera in his hand, however, the 29-year-old Denver Broncos’ reserve wide receiver is absolutely unlimited.
Norwood, an Aurora resident, lives and breathes football (a family tradition), but photography is his other passion, along with spending time with wife, Aleah, and newborn daughter, Franni.
Aleah recently bought Norwood his first camera, a Canon, and he’s put it to good use in a short time. He’s an Instagram superstar (jordanorwood) with well over 14,000 followers and his feed is peppered with photos of football and the landscapes and people that capture his imagination.
Undrafted in 2009 out of Penn State — where he ranks No. 3 in receptions for the storied Nittany Lions — Norwood’s professional football picture is still coming into focus. From training camps to practice squads, he’s bounced around the NFL and made stops in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and now Denver, where the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder played in eight of the Broncos’ first 11 games this season in a return from a torn ACL that kept him out of action last season. Norwood racked up 22 catches for 207 yards this season, bringing his career totals to 58 receptions for 612 yards and a touchdown in his career.
His younger brother, Levi, a former Baylor University wide receiver and budding photographer in his own right, recently got a tryout with the Broncos as well. His father, Brian, is an associate head coach at Tulsa University.
We caught up with Norwood on a crisp, wind-swept, picture-perfect December day at the Cherry Creek Reservoir to talk mostly about photography, football and family.
Where did the interest in photography come from?
“I’ve always been into photography, but never had a real camera until my wife — then my fiancée — got me one for my birthday a couple of years ago. At Penn State, I was taking graphic design classes and did all the Photoshop and Adobe Creative Suite programs and everything. I’ve always had that creative side and I looked for an outlet for that and it’s been photography … I’ve always been interested in taking pictures, whether it was just driving around or looking out an airplane window. When I’ve got a camera in my hand, I’m always putting things into motion.”
What do you enjoy shooting photos of most?
“My in-laws asked me to take some holiday photos and I realized that I’m not into taking portrait photos. I don’t enjoy directing people, either. I think I like landscapes and where I can capture some movement and use a long exposure. I find myself also gravitating toward backlit pictures where you get silhouettes of a lot of stuff, but I’m still figuring out everything I like to shoot.”
What’s the favorite photo you’ve taken so far?
“I have a couple that are hanging up in our house … I took a picture in New York, at 14th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, I believe, that’s looking into downtown. You can see the World Trade Center and 1 Freedom Tower, so it’s pretty cool. I put it on Instragram, but it was back when they didn’t let you crop, so it’s a square. It looks a lot better when it’s not a square.”
Does being a professional athlete open more doors for you to be able to shoot photos?
“I don’t think it gives you all access, but it sure can be helpful. I asked if I could get up into the top of Sports Authority (Field at Mile High) on a day off and they told me ‘yeah, here’s a number of a guy you can call.’ So I’m definitely going to do that. I’ve done my share of walking up stairwells and checking to see if doors are locked to get onto roofs. For awhile, I would just drive around and look for the highest place I could get to, whether it was a parking garage I could drive to the top of or if I saw a tall building and went in and said ‘hey, can I get into your office real quick to take a picture out of your window?’”
Tell us about the special photo opp that went awry when you planned to propose to your now wife.
“I had the ring and everything and we were planning on heading out into the mountains and just setting up the tripod and getting some pictures we could take for the holidays. We went two hours out into the mountains somewhere, got the camera out and sure enough I had no battery for the camera, so we just had to turn around and come home. The next day or a few days later we went down to Union Station when they had the Christmas lights up — a year ago around this time — and set up the tripod. She thought it was just for some holiday pictures, but then I proposed. The good part is I didn’t have to hire any paparazzi photographers to hide in the bushes and take pictures. It was very poor planning and that’s something I often do.”
Is photography something that could be a profession when your playing days in the NFL are over?
“I don’t know, I guess I am pretty well invested in some equipment, so I might as well. It’s definitely a hobby of mine right now, but I guess I would have to seriously consider it as a profession going forward.”
Switching to football, your professional career hasn’t been exactly easy as your were undrafted and also had a major injury. How have you persevered?
“There was certainly discouragement at times. It’s tough for anybody in any station of life getting fired and that happened to me a few times. Sure that’s discouraging, but my friends and family helped a lot and my faith in God helped me believe that good things would come or I would get on a team that really wanted me. That’s important. There are a ton of guys that have the talent to play at that level, but a lot of it is just needing hope that things will get better.”
Do you ever just look at the guys you have around you and marvel?
“Definitely, that’s happened for me since I stepped into the NFL. It was Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick or those guys in Philadelphia and the list goes on. Even when I step on the field and see the guys who are playing across from me, it’s pretty cool. Football has been a part of my family like since always, so this is big.”