Over the years, Montclair State University has had a habit of hiring alumni for its athletic programs. Both men’s and women’s soccer head coaches, Todd Tumelty and Patrick Naughter, graduated from Montclair State and are products of the men’s soccer program; the newly appointed head coach for football, Mike Palazzo, is the same.
Now, a new name enters this exclusive alumni-turned-coach club as Joe Norton was named assistant coach for the Montclair State baseball team.
Norton made a name for himself as a student-athlete after playing six seasons for the Red Hawks from 2017 to 2022. Norton is top five in Red Hawk baseball for most hits and runs and is the school’s all-time leader in stolen bases with 74.
He’s accomplished many other things as a student-athlete, being named New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Player of the Week several times, third team ABCA All-Region and two All-NJAC honorable mentions. Norton now takes on a new challenge as an assistant coach for the Red Hawks.
Norton’s love for the sport is what influenced his decision to take the coaching position. He’s always wanted to remain involved with something around baseball after playing and currently has that opportunity.
“I never really wanted to get out of the game,” Norton said. “When I was playing, I kind of knew that always in the back of my head, I couldn’t see myself not doing something in baseball. After the season ended, I talked to [head coach Dave] Lorber and weighed my options, and decided this is what I wanted to do.”
This wasn’t the first time Lorber had a former player come and coach for him. When Lorber was an assistant coach for George Washington University, one of the student-athletes playing for him was Pat Knight, who spent three years as an assistant coach under Lorber at Montclair State before leaving this year. Lorber gets the opportunity again with another former player of his in Norton, which he says is always rewarding.
“It’s awesome to have those guys want to stay around the game and obviously it’s nice to have that comradery, that trust is built in already when you hire someone new to your staff [because] it’s someone who played for you,” Lorber said.
Norton graduated from Montclair State in the spring of 2022 with a master’s degree in exercise science and a minor in sports coaching. Many of Norton’s former teammates are still on the team this year. Norton was able to build many relationships with his, now former, teammates but those close relationships are changing since becoming an assistant coach.
A former teammate of Norton’s and current graduate student infielder for the Red Hawks, Peter Cosentino, commented on the adjustment from playing with him to now being coached by him.
“The four years that I was a teammate with him, working with him every day on and off the field and then having that authority switch when you go from a player to a coach, at first it was a little bit interesting because I’ve known this guy for a lot longer and yet he’s my coach,” Cosentino said. “Adjusting to that was a little tricky, but with that being said [Norton] has done a great job.”
Norton put his degree to use and became the team’s unofficial strength and conditioning coach, a unique opportunity for him as he was given this task due to his degree and certification in strength and conditioning.
“I had internships in gyms and things like that, so going in it was something that I think I offered that I could do,” Norton said. “We never really had a formal program in the past so having the ability to do that gives the guys more structure and a better idea of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
The structure that Norton has brought to the team’s lifts has certainly improved the way things are done and are looked on favorably by the team. Norton has provided schedules and spreadsheets for certain lifts and created a more organized way of doing things in terms of strength and conditioning.
“The past three years have been kind of what I call an unorganized lift. We had a scheduled time, but there wasn’t a set lift,” Cosentino said. “Norton has whole Excel spreadsheets for every player. He splits it up between pitchers and position players and those lifts are different. Norton tailors his lifts to the particular athlete. That’s something we’ve never really had.”
Despite focusing most of his time on weight lifting and strength and conditioning, Norton has quickly accustomed himself to helping the team with hitting and catching.
“On the baseball side of it, he’s helped me out with the hitters and helped out with the catchers,” Lorber said. “It’s a role that I think was unnatural at first, but I think he’s done a good job diving into the catching side and learning and connecting with some people to get some insight and some information.”
Right now, Norton is enjoying his time as an assistant coach and wouldn’t be opposed to continuing coaching down the line.
“I would enjoy doing it in [the] long term, I’m feeling it out for sure,” Norton said. “I don’t know exactly where I’m going to go but right now, I’m enjoying it. I’m going to continue to learn as much as I can to get better at it.”