By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — He made a decision to play football, and he got rewarded in a big way.

Connor Nordvall did not take the traditional route to the team, but he became a big part of the Wayzata team.

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And one magical night, it all came together for Connor, and for the team.

It was random. A woman on the internet came across a picture of a 16-month-old boy in Kazakhstan.

“I was searching the internet and happened to come across his face and said, ‘That kid’s got to be mine,’” said Jan Nordvall.

They did, adopting Connor and bringing him to his new home in Plymouth. Shortly after he arrived, they were in for an exam with the family doctor.

“[The doctor said] ’I really don’t have a diagnosis for you. He’s going to be a little bit behind in school, and he’s going to have a little bit of a tough time with some physical, motor issues,’” Jan said.

That was true, but he was born to two parents that cared much about this blessing of a boy.

“They’ve also loved and cared for me a bunch, like, too much to say, sometimes,” Connor said. “They just loved me.”

And when he decided before his junior year he wanted to be part of the football program, a program that does not cut, they were not surprised.

“Connor doesn’t ask for much, never has,” said his dad, Mark Nordvall. “ But one thing he was persistent on for years is, ‘Dad, I want to play football. Mom, I want to play football.’”

On the practice field and with his teammates, he made his mark.

“Connor’s just a kid who comes with that energy every day. Everyone just wants to see Connor, go say hi to ‘Nordy,’ that’s what everyone calls him,” said teammate Nash Walker.

He was learning this game, one step at a time.

“Connor’s a phenomenal teammate, and hopefully his teammates learned a lot of positive lessons from him as well,” said Coach Lambert Brown.

Yes, he was a football player, and he became one of the guys on the team — and that has meant the world.

“They mean a lot to me because the relationships with the teammates are so deep now, that those bonds will never be broken,” Connor said.

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That’s what being a teammate and a friend and experiencing high school are supposed to be about.

“As a friend, he’s a good person,” teammate Andrew Yogei said. “I can talk to him about almost anything. We have normal conversations together. We talk about football, we talk about life in general, we talk about class.”

The one thing he had not experienced going into his final varsity game.was to carry the football. he was a running back, and an example.

“For me personally, my running back group that we’re in, Connor fights through everything that he’s put into, like drills and different things,” teammate Alec Underhill said. “And it kind of gives people motivation to keep on going — see that Connor’s doing it, so we can all keep doing it.”

On the final night of the season with Maple Grove leading 33-3, they inserted Connor.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going in,” Connor said.

They handed the ball to Connor. He looked for a hole, and touchdown glory fell short — but there was still time.

“But what was happening around him at the same time was unbelievable,” Jan said. “The parents were standing up, there were cow bells going — ‘Connor, go Connor!’

Maple Grove was now aware of what was at stake. On the second play.he had a chance, but conditions claimed his footing.

“So I tried to carry it inside, but then I had to go outside because there was no room,” Connor said. “And then I slipped on the snow.”

The Maple Grove team knew they were a part of something bigger than their win.

“It’s just what sports in general was about,” Brown said. “I think it’s fun to compete, but we still are all going after the same things, and appreciate the same things.”

And on the third attempt, there was no stopping Connor Norvall. It was his moment — a clear path to the end zone, to celebrate to with his teammates that were now his friends.

“They all came on top of me, and pounced of me, like, ‘Good job, good job! Nice touchdown, nice touchdown! We love you!'” Connor said.

In one moment, it all made sense — what his football career really meant was more than football.

“There’s a lot of negative stuff about kids that you hear about, but there’s a lot of positive going on, too. And to see that — it gets you choked up,” Mark said.

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That’s the way they all felt that night — that it was a journey well traveled, for the right reasons.

Mike Max