PHOENIX — In collegiate wrestling, the offseason is a time for athletes to work on technique and fine tune their skill sets.
For Arizona State redshirt senior Kordell Norfleet, the 2021 offseason saw him improve on and off the mat. Yet it wasn’t due to a new technique or a new skill set that he acquired.
It was because his younger brother, Kendall, joined him on Arizona State’s wrestling team.
“Having (Kendall) here every day, it forces me to, when times get hard and things get tough, really buckle down and remember who I am doing this for,” Kordell said. “If anything, (others) might not believe and they might be second guessing me, but I know that my brother is right here still watching me.”
Kendall walked on to the ASU wrestling squad in 2021 as a freshman, joining Kordell, who is a three-time Pac-12 champion. The older brother takes center stage again Sunday in Tempe when the Sun Devils host the Pac-12 Tournament.
Hailing from Chicago, the Norfleet family did not grow up in the easiest of situations. Jakoba Norfleet, the boys’ father, grew up on Chicago’s South Side and was put into the sport of boxing as a child in order to learn how to defend himself from other kids in his community.
“In the neighborhood, we’d use those boxing gloves to basically resolve a lot of conflict, a lot of issues … and that’s how we kind of navigated ourselves through the streets of Chicago,” Jakoba said.
When it was time for him to raise his first son, David, Jakoba was determined to introduce him to the sport he learned as a child. However, after searching and not finding a boxing gym, Jakoba came across the Harvey Twisters, a youth wrestling club that has a rich history of producing numerous Illinois state champions and college products.
Even though Jakoba was more familiar with boxing, he knew wrestling was the path that his sons would take.
“I didn’t know anything about wrestling, but I did know that it would definitely offer them some sort of preventative measures for when they were navigating through public schooling and the South Side of Chicago,” Jakoba said.
Although David only competed in the sport for just about a year as a child, Kordell at the young age of 4 picked up where he left off. He didn’t initially enjoy wrestling, and felt that it was something that he had to do in order to please his dad.
“When you’re a kid you want to play games and do what’s fun to you. So at first, no, I definitely don’t think I took a natural liking to it,” Kordell said. “But, I always loved winning.”
And winning was something that he knew how to do.
By 8, Kordell had already achieved one of the highest possible honors in youth wrestling: winning the Flo Kickoff Classic, the Flo Tulsa Nationals and the Flo Reno Worlds, which was dubbed the Trinity Award.
Coming up behind Kordell was Kendall, who joined the Harvey Twisters when he was 6. Joining the sport after his father had already put his two older brothers through the wrestling ringer made the transition smoother, Kordell said.
“It was so much easier just simply because they had done it already,” he said “I didn’t have to make the same mistakes they did, I didn’t have to be punished as hard as they were. Parents get tired as they get older, so they didn’t want to put as much discipline into me.”
Although Kordell and Kendall were three years apart, they grew close after putting in hours into the sport training at their local gym, and often in their backyard on cold Chicago nights.
“We’ve really been each other’s workout partner since (Kendall) first started,” Kordell said. “Once we left practice, my dad would have certain things he wanted to install or correct from our practices and our matches, and the gym wasn’t always open. So, we’d be right outside in the grass, knees scuffed up and everything.”
Like every sibling relationship, situations arose when they didn’t see eye-to-eye.
“We used to have bickering and arguments over sharing stuff, but we never really competed against each other,” Kordell said “My dad pretty much drilled into us that that’s your brother, and we’re always on the same team.”
By the time Kordell graduated from Marian Catholic High Schooll in 2017, he was a
back-to-back state champion in 2016 and 2017, at 170 pounds and 182 pounds. He also finished his junior and senior seasons with an overall record of 77-1, and earned scholarship offers from wrestling powerhouses including Purdue and Indiana.
Kordell ultimately chose to travel across the country and attend Arizona State, in large part due to wanting a change in scenery.
“Really what won me over with ASU was the fact that it was hot, and it was far away,” Kordell said. “I’ve been here with the snow my whole life. I just wanted to try something different.”
Once Kordell left Chicago to wrestle for the Sun Devils, it was not only a life-changing move for him but for Kendall as well. His lifelong partner was now living over 1,700 miles away.
And even though he won a few tournaments in his high school career with Marian Catholic, including the 2020 145-pound title at the Class 3A Lockport Regional, Kendall never was able to reach his full potential on the mat and in the classroom.
“In high school, when his brother left, I think he kind of just coasted through those four years,” Jakoba said. “I kind of think that the distance and the separation may have had some effect on him, because they were very close.”
After not receiving any offers to wrestle in college, Kendall thought his wrestling career was over, and he had no idea what he was going to do post-graduation.
With Kordell receiving attention on a national level, Kendall decided that he wanted to try to join him in Tempe as a walk-on, and follow in his footsteps just like he did with the Harvey Twisters.
“Coming here gave me a second wind to wrestle again and to go to school again,” Kendall said. “Before coming here, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do after high school, but then I thought ‘When I was with my brother I had the most success, and when he was gone I wasn’t really even sure what I wanted to do.’”
When Kendall arrived at ASU, he immediately felt the presence of his big brother, something that he missed out on in his high school career.
“It’s almost like having another dad out here on the team. It’s somebody who believes in you, someone who is gonna look out for you when you need it the most, somebody who knows what you need in your training,” Kendall said. “He’s done it for four years before, not only the wrestling aspect but the college aspect, like what to do, how to handle classes, all of that. He’s my guy. He paved the way when I was younger, and he’s still paving it now.”
Even though Kendall now sees Kordell in somewhat of a father figure-type role, the two still get to relive their childhood by hanging out at wrestling practice and playing video games together.
However, with Kendall living in a dorm and Kordell in an apartment a few miles away, their relationship looks different from the early days.
“We hang out relatively often, but at the same time as we got older we both developed our different friend groups,” Kordell said. “I’m always gonna hang out with him, it’s just not like when we grew up, every single day heel-to-heel, back-to-back. We’ve expanded a little bit, but we’re still in the same circle.”
As for their performance on the wrestling mat, both have seen success in the 2021-22 season.
Although Kendall is redshirting for his freshman year, he has been able to compete in the Mountaineer Open, Cowboy Open and Last Chance Open, in which he has stacked up a record of 10 wins to just three losses in the 165-pound weight class..
Kordell currently has a record of 12-3 in the 197 pound weight class, and has been a big reason Arizona State is currently ranked as the No. 12 team in the country going into the postseason.
Arizona State will host the Pac-12 Tournament in Tempe on Sunday, when Kordell will look to defend ASU’s 2021 Pac-12 Championship, as well as his back-to-back Pac-12 titles at the 197 pound weight class.
And even though Kordell is still unsure if Sunday’s Pac-12 Tournament will be one of the last times that he suits up for the Sun Devils, he is sure about one thing: His brother Kendall will be in his corner cheering him on.