With the end of Oregon Ducks star and Rose Bowl champion Terrell Turner’s college football career, he embarks on a journey filled with opportunity.
You may remember Terrell Turner after the defensive end’s standout 2011-12 football season.
Andrew Luck certainly does. In an upset victory by the Oregon Ducks over the No. 4 ranked Stanford Cardinal, Turner had the game of his life. When the two top Pac-12 teams faced off last season, Turner forced a fumble, recorded a career-high seven tackles and even sacked the NFL’s 2012 No. 1 overall pick. It’s hard for Turner to not get excited when he talks about this kind of success.
“He got up and said ‘Hey good hit 45’. Andrew Luck is an amazing character guy,” Turner remembered with a certain gleam in his eye. The reciprocal compliment is exactly the kind of individual that Turner proves to be.
And then there I was, only a few months later, sitting at a table at Jamba Juice at Century City with him, as the world passed us by. The Oregon Ducks defensive lineman was nice enough to meet with me for a unique opportunity: an exclusive interview last week. He sits with a boisterous and large presence slightly undercut by his huge smile and further highlighted by his emphatic laugh.
When he spoke, he was eloquent yet goofy, and his deep and empowering voiced delivered each series of his ideas. I quickly had the pleasure of realizing that while much of the potential that he has within him may be untapped and his jovial smile is one that will be missed in the Oregon locker room, his presence is going to be felt as he continues with his mission.
While the end of Turner’s story has yet to be written, the start was about as improbable as his success. But the resilience ingrained within him helps many realize why Turner is on a path to success.
Take, for instance, the fact that he had never played football until he got to Crenshaw High School. Turner grew up in South Central, CA (a more urban area of Los Angeles for those unfamiliar). Until his freshman year, he had only played basketball and had never stepped onto a football field.
His brother challenged him to try football as a competitive jest, and the natural athlete quickly took a liking to the sport after deciding that he needed to prove that he was the more gifted player. For Turner, there was no such thing as a fear of attempt.
That road continued for Turner, who considered his decision to try football to be one of the biggest blessings he could have been given.
By his junior year at Crenshaw, he had won the Los Angeles City Championship against Taft High School star Darrion Weems, who has since become a good friend to Turner. At this point, Turner was already in the process of getting recruited to play at schools such as Arizona State., University of Washington, University of Nevada at Reno and was even close to getting an offer from USC.
But Turner had no interest in staying in a violence-littered South Central. The self-proclaimed “mama’s boy” knew that bigger and better things awaited him.
In a bizarrely humorous situation, that same dare that got Turner involved in the sport at Crenshaw eventually earned him a spot on the roster of a prestigious football program. More importantly, it earned him the privilege of a college education.
After visiting the University of Oregon, the decision had become clear. Turner would become an Oregon Duck.
“I don’t understand how anyone could turn down Oregon,” Turner told me. “It’s such a family atmosphere. Oregon is a great place to get away from a big town.”
It wasn’t hard for his host, current New York Giants star and Super Bowl Champion Spencer Paysinger, to convince him that Oregon was the place to spend the next four years of his life.
“I think that made me into a better man today,” said Turner. “Eugene was the best experience ever. You didn’t have to worry about too much. It’s just relaxing out there.”
These lessons were learned after former teammate and “big brother” Ra’Shon Harris informed Turner about the Family and Human Services program at the school. Soon, the current Houston Texans defensive end had helped him realize that his calling was to work with kids.
Turner became a major presence at children’s camps and internships for the university in his five years on campus. He earned his degree and says the moment that his family saw him receive his diploma was one of the proudest in his life.
Turner continues to go back to Crenshaw High School to talk about the importance of earning a college degree. The main thing that he talks to the football players at Crenshaw about is to stress schoolwork. He admires players like former roommate David Paulson, who got his MBA in five years and has since earned a roster spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Turner takes the same mentality that he uses at Crenshaw High School and applies it to how he takes care of business with his recruits. He has since played mentor and host to stars such as sophomore defensive end Tony Washington (who has since become an honorable mention for Pac-12 Academic All-American) and standout phenom De’Anthony Thomas.
“He’s a great guy . . . for sure going to win the Heisman before he leaves Oregon,” Turner proudly delivered on De’Anthony. “It was a blessing to get him out of Los Angeles, and now it’s time to turn him from zero to top-notch hero. If he got in the NFL right now, he might be the best offensive player. Honestly. Chip Kelly has him in the right system.”
Of course, when I joked and asked if Turner could catch the speedy star, he maintained that he most definitely had been able to.
“When I say that no one could block me,” explained Turner with his usual smile growing on his face, “no one could block me. I may or may not have been as great as the other defensive ends, I may not be as fast, but I’m going to be as strong and as quick as I can be.”
This is the kind of lesson that you learn about yourself when you make three consecutive BCS bowl games. But that’s just what the Oregon Ducks are coming to expect after earning such consistent greatness.
After a gut-wrenching season-opening loss to LSU in his senior year of eligibility, Terrell and his team returned to the locker room absolutely devastated. But leaders like Turner maintained that they still “won the day” because they learned how they could have done better throughout the rest of the season.
“Things happen for a reason,” explained Turner, deviating from his usual playfulness and answering me back with a solemn and serious tone. “I wanted to end my senior season in California. If I don’t have the opportunity to play football again, I know for a fact I finished my last game in California in front of my family, in front of my friends, and it was a win.”
If Turner is able to carry that momentum into the NFL, he certainly has the drive, personality and talent to do so. But what’s next for the Oregon Ducks without veteran Terrell Turner, who had played the most career games going into last season than any other defensive player besides Eddie Pleasant?
Turner believes that whoever takes the “can’t-be-stopped” mentality is going to shine this season. His picks include Dion Jordan (who he projects to be an upcoming first-round pick), his friend Tony Washington (who he continues to text and check in with regularly) and Taylor Hart.
Oregon Ducks football was like a fraternity for Turner, andit will be exciting for him to watch his younger brothers continue to grow next season. He expects all facets of the team to shine, including the position of QB amidst controversy between potential starters Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett.
“They’re both going to be great QBs,” emphasized Turner. “Chip Kelly is going to be playing both of those cats in every game.”
Turner says that’s just who Chip Kelly is. Everyone has to fight for his position, including when Oregon star LaMichael James headed into his final season.That’s why it was important for leaders like Turner to calm the nerves of the locker room and make it gel. For instance, Turner was the one that chose what music would be piped into the speakers of the practice stadium.
“We went around asking teammates what they like to hear,” said Turner. “No matter what, we’re going to get our work in at practice. We’re going to play USC’s fight song to pump us up. We’re going to play the LSU roar to pump us up. It’s those little things that let us know that we’re a team.”
His favorites included Rick Ross (“Nothin’ like chillin’ and drivin’ to Rick Ross") and, much to my surprise, “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith from the Blades of Glory (2007) soundtrack. (“Man, that song gets me pumped up. Wish I could remember the name of that thing.”) He hopes either Michael Clay or John Boyett will step up for the new “DJ” position this year.
That was the kind of player that Turner was in college, which is why he was initially spotted and picked to create his own television segment on KEZI. My favorite video of that was Turner Time (feat. Chip Kelly) in which Turner talked to Coach Kelly about mini-golf, the way the two of them wear hats and “swag."
Entering the media industry, however, is something that is fundamentally interesting to Turner, especially if a professional football career never materializes.
“My first option right now is NFL football,” said Turner. “But my second option is broadcasting. I’ve reached out to Neil Everett. I’ve talked to the University of Oregon Alumni Services. I’ve talked to Comcast Sports Net in Portland, Oregon to do sideline reporting for the Oregon games. I also applied for the Pac-12 Network.”
Like football, this is something that Turner has worked hard to pursue. In the past, Turner completed an internship at KEZI for sports media in Eugene, Oregon. Among his daily tasks was his biggest fear: writing. Turner would write the tease on the sports teleprompter every time that he came into work.
By the time he completed his internship, the sports news anchor made sure that Turner was aware that he was killing it and doing a fantastic job, as if he had been doing it for years.
Turner also took the summer sports media class offered by the University of Oregon and was thrilled to be a part of the exciting program, and he was able to give an athletic perspective on many of these different issues presented.
Sound familiar? Much like when he started playing football, Turner took to media like a natural and has the right voice and mind to make his way within the industry. He feels sure that by the time that he's done with this year, he will have made a difference in someone's life even if just by the smallest inspiration. These are the kinds of things that Turner told me help him stay balanced while traveling through his journey.
Turner is confident that he’s going to be working with kids in the very near future to help them realize and reach their goals as part of his degree in family and human Services.
“I can’t wait to see in two months what happens,” said Turner with an overwhelming confidence. “I’m not going to give up on football, but I know for a fact that I want to figure something out for this year.”
It’s going to be exciting to watch Turner’s development in the coming years as we see where he goes. He was enthusiastic about his plans and seemed to deliver every word of the interview with a passion.
Sitting with Turner was one of the most comfortable reminders of how humble and human that people can be. Turner treated me like a friend, even creating a secret handshake for us to use when we meet again, as we exchanged advice and stories about our experiences at the University of Oregon.
“Everybody’s the same,” Turner prophetically delivered. “We just have different titles.”
We certainly haven't heard Turner's title quite yet. It could be NFL defensive end Terrell Turner or it could be sports media pundit Terrell Turner. But whatever that title may be, it will remind us of the lesson that he took from the Rose Bowl: everything happens for a reason. As Turner continues to help act as a mentor to young kids nationwide, he is accomplished the ultimate achievement.
Turner has taken the privilege that sports have given him through his remarkable story and turned it into a positive: helping people find themselves. That's why I'm sure that whatever Turner decides to do along his journey, he will be met with success. That's just the kind of person that Turner is.
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Bryan Kalbrosky is a Featured Columnist for the Oregon Ducks, and also runs the website that he designed Oregon Ducks student section, The Pit Crew Blog. Be sure to check back for my stories from Bryan Kalbrosky on Bleacher Report. Click Here To Follow @BryanKalbrosky