SDSU grad student leads judging team to victory as coach



Tommy Norman, a current graduate student studying ruminant nutrition, became the new livestock judging head coach in December.

Annie Reinke, Reporter

Tommy Norman didn’t have a lot of experience before he became the SDSU Livestock Judging team’s coach, but the former assistant coach thinks he’s the right man for the job.

When Brady Jensen announced that he would be leaving SDSU, Norman, a former SDSU undergraduate and current SDSU graduate, found the moment bittersweet and was then shocked that he was being considered for the interim coach position.  

“Brady had been grooming me for the past two-plus years to take this opportunity, and I was too invested in the moment to even catch the bigger picture,” Norman said. “In summation, every emotion was felt and dealt with that day. But exhilarating would be the word I’d pick looking back.”

When Jensen was asked what qualities Norman had that would make him a good coach, Jensen pointed to his drive for success.

 “I guess big picture, Tommy is driven, a hard worker, and has a high degree of character. He’s very professional,” Jensen said.

Martha Moenning and Grace Olinger, members of the 2022 livestock judging team, both said they were excited for their mentor to have an opportunity to make an impact on the next livestock judging team.  

Olinger recounts confiding in Norman for new and creative ways to speak about livestock.  

“For me, he served as a source of creativity and helped me craft statements that demonstrated a lot of complex thought that I could then inject into my reasons,” Olinger said.  

When Moenning and Olinger were asked what qualities Norman had that would make him a good coach, both had good things to say.  

“He is organized, detail-oriented and thorough, which makes team trips and practices seamless,” Moenning said. “Yet his outgoing personality, witty humor and ability to relate to his students makes him an enjoyable person to be around.” 

“Tommy is very understanding when mistakes are made. He makes an effort to understand your perspective and make necessary adjustments when needed,” Olinger said. 

The current team has seen early success under Norman’s direction, with top-five finishes at the Northwestern Stock Show and Sioux Empire Livestock Show, and a top-three finish at the Iowa Beef Expo. The team also won the overall champion team at the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic. 

Norman grew up in Luverne, Minnesota, and despite living in town, he started showing livestock in third grade. He credits his start in showing cattle to his great-uncle Lowell Jauert, who owned a show cattle seedstock operation.  

“His children grew up showing very competitively and I always remember being mesmerized going to the county fair to watch them,” Norman said. “After Lowell’s kids aged out, he took me under his wing and pushed me to learn about dedication, responsibility and grinding even when you lose sight of motivation.”   

With no coaches or mentors, Norman’s early experience in livestock judging is limited. While attending high school he competed in only two or three contests hosted by SDSU.  

In fall 2017, Norman began his undergraduate studies in animal science at SDSU. In his junior year, he began his livestock judging career on the SDSU collegiate livestock judging team coached by Jensen. 

Most of Norman’s fellow teammates had transferred to SDSU from junior college livestock judging teams and already had two-years of experience. As an in-house member with little experience, Norman found some of his transfer student teammates intimidating and understood he had to work even harder to earn a spot.  

After Norman’s team ended its year of judging with a third-place finish at the North American International Livestock Exposition livestock judging contest in Louisville, Kentucky, he knew he wanted to continue to learn from Jensen and became the assistant coach.  

During Norman’s two years as an assistant coach, he began his graduate studies in ruminant nutrition with a focus in growth physiology.  

When asked what he had in mind to continue the success and growth of the program, Norman said, “Recruiting well-rounded students that prioritize academic excellence has been my goal when selecting students to be a part of the program.”  

Although Norman has a busy schedule as a graduate student and coach, he is focused on finding success at SDSU and making the livestock judging team a program incoming students will find success in as well.