With Nick Saban’s help, former Germantown Academy QB Walt Norley wants to improve mental health for athletes | Matt Breen
STORY WRITTEN BY MATT BREEN, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER - JUNE 10, 2023
Walt Norley was in Spanish class in 1980 at Germantown Academy when his football coach pulled him into the hallway. There was someone waiting for the star quarterback in the office, coach Jack Turner said. Norley asked him who it was but Turner told him to just wait.
“I walk in the door and there’s Tony Dorsett in a mink coat,” Norley said.
Such was life for a prime-time recruit. One minute, you’re learning a foreign language. Next, you’re talking to the Dallas Cowboys’ superstar running back about why you should follow his path and attend the University of Pittsburgh. Norley had scholarship offers from nearly every program in the country. He was on top.
Soon, it was all over. A once-promising trajectory ended with Norley throwing just one pass in his college career. Norley had back surgery as a freshman at Ohio State, transferred to the University of Georgia, tore his hamstring, and had another back surgery. The buzz that followed Norley around the halls at Germantown Academy fizzled once he went to college.
“It takes a toll,” he said. “I see it now. Now there is care and there’s education. They have mental health and behavioral health teams that did not exist back then. I’ve talked to other athletes from my era and we wonder if we had something like that, would we have been able to overcome something like that? Especially me. My freshman year at Ohio State was demoralizing, to go in there with all the expectations and not be able to compete.”
Four decades later, Norley is aiming to improve mental health care in college athletic programs and make sure current athletes’ experiences are better than his. His company, OnBalance, which launched earlier this year and hits the market this summer, is a tool for college programs to better identify athletes dealing with mental illness or disease. Norley said the platform is “the first of its kind.” And it already has support from Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
Norley, who was diagnosed as bipolar when he was 25 years old and managed the disease while building a successful business career, thought a few years ago about the effect the pandemic would have on the mental health of young people. He wanted his seventh company to help solve that and soon narrowed his focus to athletics.
Saban — who recruited Norley to Ohio State — sent a video message to Norley’s family when Norley’s mother died in May 2022. Norley called to thank him and Saban asked him what he was up to. Norley talked about his latest idea and asked Saban how much his program focuses on mental health.