Josh Norris '11 and his father, Robert, have created an endowment to provide scholarship assistance to make internships possible for students in Elon's School of Communications.
Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, Josh Norris ’11 didn’t turn on the radio to hear music. He tuned in sports talk radio, with special interest in the NFL and the hometown Carolina Panthers. It was a singular passion that became a career goal he pursued almost from his first day as a student at Elon.
“I’m sure my parents sat up at night thinking that my older brother was going to be a lawyer, but Josh just likes football. What’s he going to do?” Norris says with a laugh between assignments creating content for Underdog Fantasy, a fantasy sports gaming company. He is also host of “The Underdog Football Show,” a popular podcast on the company’s website. Norris made national news this year by sporting the highest success rate of any NFL draft analyst in forecasting the first round of the annual draft of college players into the pro ranks. He even topped Mel Kiper, Jr. from ESPN, the best-known NFL draft analyst in the business.
How Norris got here can be traced to his own determination—after all, he started a radio show on the campus station WSOE his first weekend as an Elon freshman—and opportunities available at and through the university. Norris credits Elon’s commitment to engaged learning and accessibility to the Elon Experiences as learning, guiding and networking points on his career path. Of the Elon Experiences, internships played the largest role.
It’s one reason Norris joined his father to make a gift to the Elon LEADS Campaign by endowing the Norris Family Internship Award, which assists students in the School of Communications. Increasing scholarship funding to broaden access to the Elon Experiences—Internships, Study Abroad/Study USA, Undergraduate Research, Service and Leadership—is among the priorities of Elon LEADS.
“It’s all rooted in what I did at Elon,” says Norris, who graduated with a degree in Media Arts and Entertainment. “Elon is a great place that offers opportunities to grow. How often can you get a radio show the first week on campus or go on TV to get on-camera experience your sophomore or junior year? To be able to do that at Elon is such a massive advantage.”
It’s an advantage that paved the way to the job of his dreams.
Robin Kazmarek, director of internships for Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, says making internships financially accessible to all students is also a goal in the university’s Boldly Elon strategic plan. Scholarships like the Norris Family Internship Award give students the ability to accept meaningful internships in areas far from home, often with a higher cost of living.
“One of the biggest barriers is that financial piece, especially for students who have internships outside of Elon or their hometowns,” Kazmarek says. “Students don’t have a lot of disposable income and often their families don’t as well. Being able to apply for these grants is a tremendous benefit to students.”
Calling the Plays
Norris arrived at Elon with a drive to succeed. But getting where he wanted to go would take sharper definition. Three career-building internships narrowed his focus. All three internships were unpaid and two were in other states.
The first internship came after his freshman year at WFNZ, the sports talk radio station in Charlotte that Norris listened to growing up. His time there encouraged him to get a variety of media experiences at Elon, including TV broadcasting and editing.
“It was a perfect first internship after my freshman year. It taught me a lot and helped me realize that I needed to expand my objectives beyond radio,” Norris says. “I loved the internship and made great friends with the people there, I still appear on their show all the time. It’s nostalgic. But I learned that sports radio wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
When Norris returned to Elon for his sophomore year, he started working with Elon Student Television and One on One Sports. He not only learned about videography and editing but about broadcasting. More importantly, he had multiple opportunities to succeed and fail.
“They welcomed me with open arms at Elon Student TV. And I was awful. I was so bad. But Elon is a great place that offers opportunities to grow,” Norris says. “Your first time on television, you stink. The second time, you’re bad and the third you’re still below average. It’s all about reps. At Elon I was able to get that advantage.”
The editing experience he gained on campus helped Norris land his second internship. He spent part of the summer between his junior and senior year editing audio highlights for Fox Sports Radio in Los Angeles. While there, he learned about another internship opportunity that would “set the trajectory for my entire career,” Norris says.
Third and Goal
Through the internship office in the School of Communications, Norris learned about a position available for only one Elon student in the Scouting Department with the then-St. Louis Rams NFL team, whose general manager at the time was Bill Devaney ’78, who played football at Elon.
“I thought ‘this is my dream.’ My entire life I wanted to work for an NFL team projecting college prospects. And then there’s this one internship available to this school that I happen to be attending,’’ Norris says.
Norris landed the internship then worked training camp for the Rams in Earth City Missouri. He soaked up the experience, compiled binders of information and rated prospects while also networking within the organization. After he returned to Elon, he stayed in touch and was invited back the following spring to be in the team’s draft room for the 2011 draft. Norris seized that opportunity to simulcast the first round of the draft for One on One Sports at Elon, just a few days before graduation.
Attending and covering the draft led to more networking and contacts. He caught the attention of Evan Silva, an NFL writer for Rotoworld, which is now known as NBC Sports Edge. Silva lined up freelance work for Norris, including draft analysis. Eventually, he was hired full time to write and work with video. While there, he launched his first podcast, and it became the most popular podcast at NBC Sports.
Norris spent nine years with NBC, largely as a football writer and podcaster. He was hired by Underdog Fantasy during the pandemic in March 2021, just ahead of the most recent NFL draft, where his reputation only grew. He is considered a leader in producing media content and NFL analysis.
While Norris credits the internships for attaining the career of his dreams, he also acknowledges that all three internships were unpaid and would not be possible without financial support from his parents. It allowed him to travel and live in Los Angeles and Missouri, as well as handle other related expenses.
“To be honest, my family put a ball nicely on a tee and I got to hit it,” Norris says. “My parents are really supportive in everything I’ve done. As I got older, I realized how privileged I am. The longer I go through life, I realize not many have the things afforded them that I have.”
Norris says financial aid to make dream internships available to students with financial need was a driving factor in creating the endowment. Even paid internships are usually not enough to offset expenses students might face in New York, Chicago or even Raleigh, North Carolina.
The first Norris Family Internship Award this year was given to an Elon student majoring in sports management. Kazmarek says Tyler Romanias ’22 had an internship this past summer with Cressy Sports Performance in West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s a sports performance facility whose clients include tennis great Serena Williams and NFL quarterback Jacoby Brissett. He is learning how a top training facility operates and how to produce programs to train elite athletes.
“I would hate for someone to land an amazing internship in New York and they couldn’t take it because they couldn’t afford the cost of travel or rent or food,” Norris says. “I would hate for someone’s career to be derailed. I wanted to help someone achieve their dreams or get closer to it.”
About the Elon LEADS Campaign
With a $250 million goal, Elon LEADS is the largest campaign in the university’s history and will support four main funding priorities: scholarships for graduates the world needs, increase access to engaged learning opportunities such as study abroad, research, internships and service learning, support for faculty and staff mentors who matter and Elon’s iconic campus. As of September 20, donors had contributed $226.3 million toward the goal.
Every gift to the university—including annual, endowment, capital, estate and other planned gifts—for any designation counts as a gift to the campaign, which will support students and strengthen Elon for generations to come.
Visit www.elonleads.com to learn how you can make an impact with your gift.