WALTERBORO, SC (WCSC) - Colleton County residents are mourning the loss of a small town hero who made a big name for himself. Former NFL player Norman Hand died of a heart attack Friday afternoon at his Walterboro home. He was 37 years old.
It didn't take long for the news of his sudden death to spread around the close knit community.
"I was shocked. It wasn't something you expected. We didn't have any reason to think he'd be with us for years to come," said Colleton County High School Football coach Leroy Riley.
Riley and Hand were both new to the former Walterboro High School in the fall of 1988. Riley had just joined the school's coaching staff, and Hand transferred there from New York City as a 10th grade student.
"We kind of had a feeling that he was going to be a really good player, but we didn't grasp how great a player he would be," Riley said.
According to Riley, Hand had never played football before, but it wasn't long before he left his mark on the gridiron.
"He was a great blocker at Tight End. He really made our toss sweep awesome," Riley said.
A prep standout in football and baseball, Hand earned Honorable Mention All-America accolades from Parade and USA Today while he was at Walterboro High School. In 1990, he was names South Carolina's Defensive Lineman of the year.
After a successful football career with the Ole Miss Rebels, Hand played for the pros.
In 1995, he was a fifth round pick for the Miami Dolphins. Over the course of the next 10 seasons, he played for the New York Giants, San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints.
Former Walterboro High School secretary Pat Rohde mentored Hand and remained in close touch with him over the years as she watched his career blossom.
"He was a big old guy. That smile. When he smiled, you didn't think of him as a football player, he was more like a big teddy bear," Rohde said.
A 30 year veteran in the Colleton County School District, Rohde choked back tears as she remembered Hand's impact on the community.
"Even though he wasn't playing football, he could make an impact on our community. And we looked up to him. He was Norman Hand," she said.
Coach Riley remembers Hand as a nice, "down to earth guy" who never forgot where he came from.
Over the years Hand returned to his Alma Mater to mentor current students at football camps, a memory that still sticks with Coach Riley.
"He said, 'Coach, you're dummies are in bad shape. You need some new ones.' He took out his check book and wrote a check for $10,000 so we could buy new blocking dummies. He just had a big heart," Riley said.
Looking back on Hand's life, Rohde says the town of Walterboro is proud of him.
"I just hate that he's gone, but his memories will live on. All the pictures will mean so much more to me now that I have them," Rohde added.
In response to his sudden death, Hand's family released the following statement:
"Our beloved Norman was brought to the hospital earlier today. He was unresponsive and resuscitation efforts were not successful. He passed away earlier this afternoon surrounded by his family. Respect for our privacy will be greatly appreciated as we mourn this incomprehensible loss. We ask that you focus on Norman's life and the contributions he made rather than his untimely death.''
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.