We move along in our first week of studies by continuing to analyze the truest football pioneers of what today is known as Arizona State University. Though the school and mascot changed names multiple times over the first 60 or so years of existence, one constant theme was gritty, tough athletes. Today’s focal point is perhaps the school’s most decorated and revered football player of the pre-World War II era.
About 20 years before Wilford “Whizzer” White hustled his way to All-America honors at Arizona State, 40 years before Woody Green began punishing the Sun Devil record books and long before J.R. Redmond rushed his way into ASU lore, Norris Steverson was the hotshot halfback in Tempe.
Born July 20, 1910 in Mesa, after graduating from Mesa High School, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Steverson made the short trip to call Tempe home to play for the Arizona State Teachers College Bulldogs from 1929-31.
In 1931, Steverson became the first player in program history to earn postseason recognition as he earned All-Southwest honors for his play on the gridiron. Also that season, Steverson helped guide ASTC to the Border Conference championship including a 19-7 win over Arizona.
We again reference our treasured “Sun Devil Summer School” course text, Bob Eger’s Maroon and Gold: A History of Sun Devil Athletics, for a passage from the Arizona Republic on Nov. 1, 1931 in reaction to Steverson’s courageous efforts leading Arizona State to victory over Arizona:
“His speed, his drive and his change of pace in the broken field bewildered the visiting University players. Frequently he would shoot out of a group of a half a dozen Arizona tacklers when it seemed certain he was down to down to add six, eight or 10 yards to gains already recorded. Steverson is probably the best all-around football player in Arizona this year. He is the perfect type of triple-threat man, equally adept at carrying the ball, hurling forward passes or kicking. In the latter two branches he gave as pretty an exhibition as has been seen on an Arizona gridiron in a long time.”
Following his career as a Bulldog, Steverson made yet another unprecedented achievement for Arizona State football as he became the first player in program history to sign with a professional football team. Though he initially signed with the Chicago Bears, Steverson ultimately played five games in 1934 for the NFL’s Cincinnati Reds, rushing eight times for 22 yards.
After his pro career, Steverson returned to his alma mater to coach swimming, football, track, rodeo, boxing, basketball and he also was the school’s first men’s gymnastics coach in 1955. Arizona State’s gymnastics program then began as a club team until elevated to intercollegiate status in 1958. Steverson would coach the gymnastics squad through 1968.
Steverson was recognized for his contributions to ASU by being included as one of only six football players among the charter inductees to Arizona State’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1975, joining Curley Culp, Woody Green, Charley Taylor, Danny White and Wilford “Whizzer” White.
Steverson passed away on March 23, 2004 at age 93.