Rice at Charlotte
Saturday 1 p.m.Central
Jerry Richardson Stadium
First things first... No one calls Luke Turner "Bob" thesedays.
That moniker seems to have stayed behind in Houston whereTurner was a stalwart on a set of Rice football teams that went to three bowls,set a record for most wins over four seasons and captured the school's firstconference championship since 1956.
After his college career concluded, Turner took a stab at extendinghis football playing days by training for the Owls Pro Day, showcasing themultitude of skills that gave him far more responsibilities than letters in hisadopted name. But when no professionalteam extended an offer, Turner made the decision to pursue a career in coachingand found himself back where he learned the game, Gilmer, Texas where he joinedhis father Matt's coaching staff.
"These days, mostly I hear 'Mr. Turner', which takes somegetting used to because I think they're calling for my dad," Turner saidlaughing.
Saturday, the current set of Owls will take on Charlotte at1 p.m., the same team against which Turner's career closed in 2015 with a 27-7Senior Day win. The game might havebeen nothing more than a footnote to a 5-7 season, one in which Turner tookover at quarterback to run the Wild Owl package and lead the team with 49 yardsrushing and throwing his first touchdown pass since 2013, but he had one lastmemorable moment in him.
Turner's production earned him a spot in the season's finalpostgame press conference, and what followed would quickly become a viral videosensation.
His heartfelt thanks to his head coach, David Bailiff, forhonoring a scholarship offer even after Turner had suffered a broken leg as ahigh school senior season. The reactionto the video became so great that Tom Rinaldi from ESPN came to Houston thefollowing week to tape a segment for that week's GameDay show.
The video eventually topped 750,00 views and stood as themost watched video on the Rice YouTube channel until this past week when a 2013video of Chris Boswell's rabona onside kick vs. Houston was revived in the aftermathof Boswell's aborted attempt to repeat the kick in a game between thePittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
While the videoenjoyed its moment in the fleeting fame cycle of cyberspace, its accessibilitymeans his current students can call it up at any moment.
"The only time anyone brings it up is when my students ask meif there is any video from me playing at Rice." Turner said. "When they Googlemy name, that's the video that comes up. Then they get on me for crying and ask me why there isn't anything of meactually playing.
"It's been crazy how the time went by so fast. It's hard to believe it's been a year sincethat video went viral and ESPN came to town. Now, here I am back in Gilmer, teaching and coaching football," Turnersaid.
Turner teaches computer classes and coaches the fullbacks forthe seventh ranked Buckeyes who downed Dibol 50-28 on Thursday in the openinground of the Class 4A D2 playoffs. He can'thelp but catch glimpses of himself in the current group of players and feel a definiteconnection.
"It has been amazing to come back where I learned the gameof football," he noted. "It's fun to be able to coach kids who look up to mefrom my time playing here and then at Rice. I had not been home much over the last four years during the season andit has been great to be back in this atmosphere with the tradition that hasbeen built over the years. "
He admitted that one of his biggest challenges has been todial back the passion he brought to the field.
"I had to adjust to a different kind of emotion during thegame." He explained. "I'm into the game as much as ever, but I can't show as much emotion as I didwhen I was playing. I have to be therefor these kids and helping them to keep their focus."
He's also gained a greater appreciation of things related tothe game that he had taken for granted when he moved to the college level.
"I've gained a new view of the game since I've comehome. These kids are playing the gamebecause they want to and because they love it. When you've played so much football, youforget how special it was to get that first chance to take the field and thereis nothing like offering a player that opportunity.
"Unlike in college where you go with the commitment to playfootball, these kids would be here going to school anyway. They make the choice to come out here and putin the effort to compete and almost all of them will never play at the nextlevel. I appreciate so much what ourguys do. We push them pretty hard because of the traditions that come withplaying for Gilmer.
"I was lucky in that I got to play more football than 99% ofthe guys who have come through this program and even though most of the kids Icoach are not likely to have that chance, what they bring every day is raw andreal and it's special to be here withthem."
The theme of Turner's talk after the Charlotte game of 2015,of a career likely coming to an end and the gratitude he felt to the men whohad guided him on that journey now resonates with Turner from a differentperspective.
He is now the one who is the guide for the journey ofothers.
"Now that it's the playoffs, the reality hits each of them,that this week could be the last week, the moment when there is no morefootball. There is real emotion whenyou come to that realization and I know that from my own experience.
You could see a difference in every senior this week. They have their own stories and their ownreasons for playing and being a part of the tradition of Gilmer football, Theyhave grown up with the game and watching this team as kids and now they wonderif each day if it will be the last practice."
Thankfully, that reality has been postponed for at least aweek as the Buckeyes advanced, but short of a state championship, Turner knowshis charges will face the reality of a career ending as the aftermath of aloss.
It's a scenario he hopes they can avoid, but one he isprepared to help them through.
"Hopefully we can go all the way and they can walk off thefield for the last time with a win but I know they all are better for havingbeen our here and played the game.
"And I know I am really happy to be here with them inGilmer. "