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THE R - BLOG

Senior Reflection: Adaeze Obinnah

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This summer on the R Blog we will be featuring several graduating seniors with reflections on their careers at Rice University, beginning first with Adaeze Obinnah of women's basketball. 

 

By: Adaeze Obinnah

 

I felt on top of the world. I knew heading into my senior season that I had an internship set for the summer (Auditing at PwC) and that I would be back in the fall (studying Accounting at Jones School of Business). I had nothing holding me back and was ready to finish my career strong. But then I got injured. It felt like the world toppled down on me. I needed two surgeries and was told I could possibly play after the first. I had the first surgery on the day of our home opener. I rehabbed. I practiced. I trained. I traveled, but I was never cleared to play.

Before the season started our team did a grit test. Then during our first conditioning practice of preseason, the beep test was a follow-up test as evidence of where we fell on the grit scale. After dropping out early, I felt bad that I showed little grit. But in hindsight, I realize the test wasn't really an accurate assessment of grit. When I look back at this past season, I just didn't see an option to give in. God wanted me to be here. There was purpose in this unfortunate event.

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I got to see a different part of the game and the team. What amazed me was how much love this team had to give. I felt like I lost a part of my identity and yet, they still valued and supported me. They were lifting me up even when I had nothing to give in return. It wasn't just my teammates, it was other student-athletes and other students at Rice. It confirmed the reason why I chose Rice in the first place - these are people with good heads on their shoulders. They're wise, caring, special people. When you think of a typical jock, we're not that. We're smart, deep, more than just school and sports. We're the highest of both levels you can get in those fields. I love that Rice truly appreciates the full person.

Twenty years from now, when I think back to my time at Rice, I will first think of women's basketball but not in terms of playing but of my teammates and coaches, the experiences we shared, our pregame dance sessions, our team bonfires, finally getting [sophomore Gabby] Ozoude to dunk, traveling on the road and finishing with a win WBI championship. The court wasn't where I got my fulfillment. I think God put me on the sidelines so I could fully appreciate that.

Maybe I couldn't finish the beep test but my support system - my friends, teammates, coaches and God - helped me get grit, joy, strength. It was a blessing in disguise. It was not how I planned it but looking back now, I would have it no other way.

Streak Extended One At-Bat at a Time

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Amid all the shots of excitement and celebration that surrounded the announcement of the 64 teams who will embark on the Road to Omaha with the hopes of reaching the 2017 College World Series, one of the lasting reactions will be that of the players from Miami, who were forced to confront the end of a remarkable 44-year run of tournament appearances.

                Although their own streak of 23 consecutive appearances is shorter by years than the age of some of their teammates, Rice seniors Dayne Wunderlich and Charlie Warren could sympathize with the emotions of the Hurricanes after a remarkable late-season surge rescued the Rice's streak, which now stands as the third longest active streak in NCAA history.

                "Dayne comes from a big time tradition at Brenham and I played at The Woodlands and we also have a big baseball tradition," Warren said.  "We have been part of extending  the tradition at Rice and we both have always known that you don't want to be the group that doesn't pass the streak on to the next team. "

                Those experiences, along with the gnawing stigma that the upperclassmen at Rice carried as part of a group who saw Rice's 20-year streak of conference titles end in a walk-off win by Southern Miss the previous season, drove them to close the ranks in a team meeting that came, ironically, after the aforementioned Golden Eagles had just taken two of three at Reckling Park, leaving the Owls at just 4-11 in Conference  USA and 13-28 overall.

           'We knew Southern Miss was going to be the contender that we would have to take down so when they came here and kind of embarrassed us by blowing us out twice at home, it left a bad taste in our mouths," Wunderlich said. "It became a recurring theme, that we were good enough to be the champions of Conference USA.  We didn't do it last year and we started out this year so bad.  We knew that once we were midway through conference that we had to step it up to even make the tournament and get a chance to take them down to win the tournament."

During a midweek lull in the schedules and with finals on the near horizon, the seniors called their teammates together to stake a claim for the remainder of the season.

"We knew what the record was, but the message was that this was all on us to turn it around.  The series at Western Kentucky was a great chance and we did that big time," Warren said.

"We could say that we were better than this as much as we wanted, but at the end of the day, we had to play like it," Wunderlich said. "We needed to just go out on the field and play as hard as we could every game and try to play up to our own abilities. Not try to do too much.  We evaluated ourselves and looked deep into ourselves and each guy said this is what you need to do: Do your own part for the team and we will be successful. "

Nationally there was buzz that three of the four longest active NCAA streaks were in immediate peril as Florida State, owners of the second-longest streak at 39 games,  was also hovering near the .500 mark   But locally, the Owls shut out any considerations other than the next game.

                They swept a series from Western Kentucky, took two of three from UTSA and then showed a resilience to respond to late challenges and produce a walk-off win over Lamar and then overcome a five-run deficit with six outs left to complete a series sweep at Charlotte.

                The turnaround was startling, but both Warren and Wunderlich said it came from the most basic of tenets.

                "You have to know your capabilities, know your own body and know your own level of play," Wunderlich said. "We are very team-oriented. Everybody is doing what they need to do. Whenever we need a big hit, they've been coming from a lot of different people.   We've paid a big price this season and we've come through the fire and now we are finally seeing a little success."

                The Owls  hit .317 as a team while winning 18 of 22 and both seniors joined in the effort. Warren raised his average from .259 to .265 while Wunderlich hit .297 to raise his average 45 points. The team also blasting 29 homers, three more than their season total from 2016.

                Suddenly, a season that once was in peril became one of great promise.  But even as they made the potential of extending the NCAA streak more plausible, Wunderlich said the focus remained as it had been since their run began.

                "It's (the NCAA streak) always in the back of your mind, but last Sunday in Biloxi, the only thing on our minds was playing hard," he said. "We had some breaks in the game. The rain delay certainly helped us because they were just starting to build a little momentum.  We came back from that and jumped on them right away. 

"We were really playing for our lives. If we don't win that game, we're not in the tournament.  So for us at that moment, it wasn't so much extending the streak as extending our season," he stated.

And now with all matters such as streaks safely secured and a third C-USA trophy added to the collection, the Owls return to a familiar setting to take on a familiar foe in a tournament that has become an annual expectation.   The differences between coming to Baton Rouge last year after a walk-off loss and this year with the emotions of returning the outcome are obvious to Wunderlich.

We're definitely coming  in hot and we have a lot of momentum behind us but we have to keep that up," he said. "We played Southeastern (Louisiana) last year in the regional and three times earlier this year. We know they are a very good baseball team and we can't look past Friday night.   Hopefully we can get a win there and then get a chance to play LSU in front of a big crown on Saturday night."

 

 

 

 

 

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                Rice entered the 2017 Conference USA Baseball Championship facing off against its history, both recent and the very legacy that drew the current players to South Main.             

                One year after they saw their streak of 20 consecutive conference championships come to a close with a walk-off win by Southern Miss in 2016, these Owls faced the once unimaginable prospect of seeing the nation's fourth longest streak of NCAA appearances come to an end.

                In a season that had opened with an uncharacteristic string of struggles and mistakes,  the current group of Owls arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi with a game plan that was both remarkably straight forward but also with little room for variance. In order to maximize their available pitching, they needed to follow the shortest path, the winner's bracket by winning three straight games and then let it all ride in the championship game.

                Enter Matt Canterino.

                The freshman from Southlake stepped on to the mound at MGM Park, with winds blowing towards the gulf shores beyond the outfield fences and stared down a potent FAU lineup averaging nearly seven runs per game, holding the C-USA's eastern Owls to just four hits, while fanning a career-high 11 in a career-best 7.2 innings of work, a crucial component to the Owls weekend masterplan.

"We knew that we were going to be facing tough teams the entire tournament," Canterino said. "Allowing Glenn (Otto) to only have to throw 1 1/3 innings that first game allowed him to go 3 1/3 the next day.  You also have to give it up to the other starters as well. They kept us in the games, got us deep enough and then you put Glenn out there."

               The freshman from Southlake had already demonstrated his pitching acumen in the first stage of the season, stepping into the Friday night starter's role and matching some legendary former Rice hurlers by fanning 10 or more in three consecutive starts.  In his third career start he fanned 10 Pepperdine hitters, then matched that total the following week while limiting Stanford to a pair of hits in seven shutout innings to register his first career win.  He continued the streak in his next start, exiting with a lead at Old Dominion in the C-USA opener, only to see the Owls drop a 6-5 decision.

                As the Owls struggles continued, falling to a 4-11 mark after a home series to Southern Miss, a series that proved to be the turning point to the season, Canterino was winless in his next four starts, all against conference foes.  

                "I had a lot of success striking guys out earlier in the season, but that calmed down a little bit (as the season went on)," he said. "Scouting reports get out and hitters start to know what to expect. It became about making better pitches as you go on. I feel like it's been better the past couple of weeks because I've been making fewer mistakes with my slider. I'm getting more swings and misses with it that before when I was leaving it hanging and guys were able to hit it with authority. In that regards, I feel like I'm getting back to where I was at the beginning of the season. But I feel like I've matured along the way as well."

                Canterino's growth was also buoyed by the emergence of the Owls offensive attack that saw Rice hit a combined .317 during an 18-4 run to that 23rd consecutive NCAA berth as well as improved defense as Rice allowed only 11 unearned runs in the last 22 after surrendering 42 in the first 38 frames.

                "The past couple of weeks, I've been coming to terms that every once in a while, I'm going to make a good pitch and the (opponents) are going to hit it," Canterino stated. "It is what it is. If they get a couple of runs, then they get a couple of runs. But, you have to have confidence that their pitchers are going to make a couple of mistakes and that your hitters are good enough to do that also.

        "With the power that we've been showing, that pretty much a recipe for success with the mindset that our pitching staff has. We're just going out there thinking, 'just get us back in the dugout as quickly as we can.' If they get a couple of runs, it's not going to be enough to win the ballgame for them because we have a high-octane offense to get us back in the lead," he stated. 

History of Rice Football Up Next for Bayou City Blitz

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Rice Athletics was happy to assist The Heritage Society in a special project to coincide with the return of the Super Bowl to Houston entitled "Bayou City Blitz: The History of Houston Football".

The exhibit features memorabilia and photos documenting the growth of the sport in Houston at all levels and features a pair of trophies for the city's first two bowl championships which were won by Rice (1938 Cotton Bowl and 1947 Orange Bowl).

Another aspect of the exhibit is a round table series of panel discussions on various Houston football topics and the third of this series will be devoted to the history of Rice Football. Ray Alborn, Bucky Allshouse, Trevor Cobb and Jarett Dillard will make up the panel discussion, which will be moderated by Nate Griffin from Fox 26, on Wednesday, March 8 from 7-8:30 p.m.

The event will be held in The Heritage Society Tea Room and is free to pubic.


A Class Effort

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As Rice Basketball heads into the stretch run of Conference USA play at 17-8 (7-5), Coach Mike Rhoades' first full recruiting class reflects on the bond as a family, the experiences gained over the past two years & what they believe the future of Rice basketball holds.

Behind the Scenes: On the road with the Owls

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As the Rice men's basketball team opens a two-game road swing to Florida, here's a brief look at life on the road during a college basketball season, captured earlier this year as the Owls opened C-USA play:

Hawkins Leaving Her Mark

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Senior point guard Maya Hawkins shared her thoughts on her Rice career and went into detail on bouncing back from past injuries.  

Q: How has your game grown over the last couple of seasons from when you first arrived at Rice?

A: "The growth I've endured since my freshman year is crazy. A lot of it has to do with my coaches and teammates. My teammates have been real with me and have told me I need to look for my shot more, and create more. That's the kind of feedback that really pushed me and challenged me as a point guard, to look for my shot and shoot the three-pointer when I'm open. Of course the coaches have also pushed me to be more of a scorer. It's been an adjustment because that's not something that was really in my game coming into college, but it's been fun."

Q: What is your relationship like with the coaching staff?

A: "This staff is amazing. They came in so fired up about the program and what this team could accomplish. Their energy gave all of us energy. You can see that in the way we play and the way we practice, we reflect them. Being the point guard, Coach Langley and I have watched a lot of film together and I've been able to see what she sees out on the court. I've learned so much from her and I continue to learn. She has a very good method of teaching and she's very easy to learn from. It's been fun breaking down film with her and having her push me in practice, and even helping me with my leadership skills. She's helped me grow in so many areas."

Q: What has your recovery process been like from suffering injuries earlier in your career?

A: "Up until this point my injuries have unfortunately kind of defined my career at Rice. My freshman year, a week before the season started, I was practicing with the team and I landed wrong following a layup and I ended up fracturing my tibia. It was the worst pain, it was burning and I knew immediately something was wrong. I ended up missing the majority of the preseason. I came back right before conference started. As a freshman I was really nervous because preseason is where you hope you can find your groove. I had teammates who really encouraged me and helped me get past any self-doubts I had. I was able to come back and haven't had an issue with it (right leg) since.

Compared to my ACL tear, it was much easier to come back from. The ACL injury happened in March of '15 right after the season had ended. Again, it happened in a practice, and again it was on a layup where I was by myself and it was a non-contact injury. I had the surgery and was out for 7-8 months, so again I missed the preseason. That injury was a lot harder for me to get over mentally because I was out so much longer and had lost so much muscle. I didn't have a lot of confidence in that leg. Thankfully, when our strength coach Justin Roach came on board he really helped me not only get my leg stronger, but also helped me get over the mental block I had. Later on, he convinced me to get rid of the brace and that helped me play more carefree and at the same time helped me forget about the injury. That brace was awful!"

Q: How gratifying has it been to play injury-free since?

A: "It's made me realize how much I missed the game of basketball. Our coaches prepare us to play an entire season so I was definitely conditioned and focused enough. It's just really been fun to play an entire season. I've been blessed."

Q: What has it been like spending these last three years with your senior teammate Jasmine Goodwine and Adaeze Obinnah?

A: "It's been amazing spending these last three and a half years with those girls. I never would have thought when I met them on my visit that they'd turn into lifelong relationships. It's true when they say your teammates become your sisters. We've shared so many experiences with each other. We've formed a bond that will never be broken. We all know where each other has come from since we were freshmen and we've been able to watch each other grow. I'm so appreciative of them."

Q: What type of mark do you want to leave at Rice?

A: "I want people to remember me as a player that left it all out on the floor, that I played my hardest 100 percent of the time. That's something that I've always wanted people to know about my game. Whether it was good, bad, or ugly - I'm always going to play hard. That's something that I know inspires my teammates. They've come up to me and said how much they want to match my energy in practice. I couldn't want anything else from teammates than that. If I can be an example of the energy and the effort we give on the court, then that's something I can look back on and say, "Wow look how hard they're playing, I inspired them to do that". That would be amazing."

Q: What has Rice meant to you over these last four years?

A: "Being at Rice has been the biggest blessing ever. I didn't know much about Rice before coming here other than it was a small school. It's given me so many opportunities. They provided me a scholarship to go to Ghana. I'm majoring in sociology and it's helped me open my eyes to so many social issues. It's really challenged me not only academically, but as a person. I've grown exponentially both on and off the court."

 

Seniors Ride Off in Style

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VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

The day could not have been more perfect.

A chilly morning quickly gave way to brilliant sunshine and temperatures that mocked the date on the calendar.  While large parts of country were bundled up while prepping for their Thanksgiving Day festivities, the Rice Football team's final practice zipped along in near perfect conditions.

But before the team could disburse to friends and families for feasts of their own in advance of an early departure on Friday to travel west for the season finale against the Stanford Cardinal, the Owls had one final piece of business.

SENIORS' LAST PRACTICE PHOTO GALLERIES

2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015  / 2016

With the practice script completed, head coach David Bailiff gathered the Owls together for a few final words and then the seniors on the team broke away to take one last walk around the turf at Rice Stadium.   Up the sideline they had called home for so many Saturdays (and a few Thursdays and Fridays as well), around the south end zone and past the entrance generations of other Owls had used to enter the field, and then down the east sideline toward their new home in the Brian Patterson Center, and then to their teammates were waiting for them in a reception line in the north end zone.   

The team then joined again together to begin the final act in a closing ritual that Bailiff had brought with him from his days at Texas State.  

As has each class of seniors over the past 10 years, each player selected four team members or staff to carry them from the field to the north end zone, symbolically ending their time as a player on their historic venue's playing surface.

The strategy is as varied as the individuals who make up the team.  Some select members of their position group, others select 

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roommates and other friends, others can be more eclectic.

The slam dunk winner for best explanation for his selections over the past decade was offensive guard Davon Allen, a four-year letterman from 2008-11 (left).  When he first arrived on campus, he had great difficulty in completing the summer conditioning workouts, so he called out two trainers in addition to two teammates for his transportation, explaining "they had to carry me off the field my first day here, so they might as well carry me off on the last day."

The 2016 Owls did not have anything as colorful among their selected lineups.

But in the midst of the laughs and camaraderie that was evident as the tradition was fulfilled, that merriment masked an underlying realization that a cherished and dominant part of their lives had drawn to a close.

"Every year you see players who you would never guess would show emotion getting choked up because the reality really sets in," Bailiff said.  "You know it's going to happen, but it's always a powerful moment when a player comes to the end of the line to shake your hand and you see tears in their eyes."

After 10 years, it has become a shared experience for a generation of Owls and one that younger players can expect to take part in down the road.  

Walking Off A Winner

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 Rice vs. UTEP

Saturday, November 19 /11 a.m. /Rice Stadium
Radio: SBNation 1560
Webcast: ESPN3 
 



Fittingly, there appears there will be some level of chill in the air.

Even though each football season begins the in the legendary heat and humidity of the Gulf Coast,  the conclusion of each season comes at time when thermometers return to the numbers reserved for running backs and the concept of layering clothes must be recalled.

Each year begins with the grind of long days of training camp and then in the blink of an eye, it is time to bid farewell to another senior class who will step on the turf of Rice Stadium one last time.

This class of 17 will take the field hoping to extend a streak they have inherited from the past eight senior classes, each of whom took a measure of pride in knowing they left the Rice Stadium on their last game day with a "W" on the board. That streak of wins has given Rice a 52-49-2 record in season finales (there were no home games in the 1912 season).

Saturday's opponent, UTEP, has been a familiar witness to the traditions of Senior Day, having played in the Owls home finale six times since 1997, including twice in the last three years. The two have also reserved most of their battles for November, with Saturday's being the 15th time in 20 meetings the two have met in the season's final full month.

There have been improbable rallies against UTEP, capped by a wild 28-point fourth quarter on Homecoming Day in 2007 when Chase Clement produced a school-record eight touchdowns and 498 yards of total offense against the Miners.  There was a 30-29 win in 2009 that saw Tyler Smith rush for 127 yards against the same team he had severely injured a knee against two years earlier. 

There was Nick Fanuzzi throwing for 405 yards on Homecoming in 2011 as the Owls rebounded from a 73-34 loss to Houston the week before with a 41-37 win.  And there was the moment when Jeremy Eddington blew past the retiring Mike Price along the UTEP sideline to answer a Miner touchdown with the first kickoff return by an Owl  since Madonna's heyday to cap an run to a bowl game and set of a joyous response to the question as to if there were too many bowl games.

This class as well will always be remembered as members of the cast who authored this viral postgame reaction to a bowl bid. 

Senior Day dramatics have not been the sole responsibility of the Miners.  There was the shootout win over Houston in 2008, a game that for the first time saw both schools take the field bowl eligible.  There was the video game number piled up by Rice and Tulsa, nearly 1,300 yards in a 48-43 loss in 2007, the last Senior Day loss for the Owls.

PHOTO GALLERY: Rice vs. UTEP

And there was the sunny day in 2006 when Rice and SMU found themselves locked in an improbably winner-take-all battle for a bowl game.  

The 2006 Owls that entered the year with a new coach and little expectations coming off a 1-10 season. But from the first snap of an opening 31-30 loss to Houston, it was apparent this team had buried the past, ignored the sparse expectations and was only interested in what transpired on the field.  They endured the physical toll of an insane opening run of games that featured Houston, UCLA, Texas and Florida State in successive weeks as well as the unimaginable shock and pain of the passing of freshman Dale Lloyd.

They drew closer, sealing off any outside forces seeking to deter their vision and being to win game sin the most improbable of ways. They won their last six, twice with three seconds left and once on the last play of overtime.  Ten years ago on Friday, Clark Fangmeier's field goal with three seconds left beat East Carolina to set up a Senior Day showdown the following week against SMU, with a bowl berth the winner.   

The Owls sent that Senior Day crowd into a frenzy with a dramatic 31-27 win to earn a special place in Rice history  and fittingly  members of that team will return for this Senior Day to be recognized on the anniversary of their signature moment.  

Senior day will be a day to honor the accomplishments of a group of 18 individuals who will take with them memories of some of Rice's greatest success in recent times. Some will make the walk in ceremonies in street clothes as injuries brought the playing time to a premature end.  Two, Justin Carter and David Wilganowski, will do so having never played a down, but have steadfastly contributed to their team in other roles.  

While all Rice graduates proudly leave South Main with their school ring, this group carry an impressive set of additional hardware thanks to including three bowls, two bowl championships and the school's first conference title in 56 years.

In terms of conference titles, Jess Neely stands alone as the Rice head coach who captured more conference crowns than any other and Saturday marks the anniversary of his own final Senior Day .  On this date in 1966, Neely coached his final home game at Rice Stadium and saw his Owls present him with the last of his 144 wins on South Main with a 21-10 win over TCU. 


During his career, the saying was that "November was for Neely" and the Hall of Fame coach certainly delivered on this, posting a 74-53-3 record at Rice. 

In recent times, the modern version of the Owls have had an uncanny ability to fashion repeated success at home in the season's last month.  They have won 16 of their last 18 games in November or later. 

Saturday will arrive with a chill in the air and with the knowledge that for most, their football careers have reached the penultimate act with a road trip to Stanford remaining on the itinerary.

Saturday affords a chance to add another milestone to their legacy, pass the baton to the next generation of Owls and take the lasting memory of a final walk of victory on to the next chapter of their lives. 

A winning walk on a chilly Houston November day is the ending they all seek. 

Passing on the Lessons Learned

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Rice at Charlotte

Saturday   1 p.m. Central

Jerry Richardson Stadium

Campus Insiders

SBNation 1560

GameTracker


First things first... No one calls Luke Turner "Bob"  these days.

That moniker seems to have stayed behind in Houston where Turner 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 first conference championship since 1956.

After his college career concluded, Turner took a stab at extending his football playing days by training for the Owls Pro Day, showcasing the multitude of skills that gave him far more responsibilities than letters in his adopted name.  But when no professional team extended an offer, Turner made the decision to pursue a career in coaching and found himself back where he learned the game, Gilmer, Texas where he joined his father Matt's coaching staff.

"These days, mostly I hear 'Mr. Turner', which takes some getting used to because I think they're calling for my dad," Turner said laughing.

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Saturday, the current set of Owls will take on Charlotte at 1 p.m., the same team against which Turner's career closed in 2015 with a 27-7 Senior Day win.   The game might have been nothing more than a footnote to a 5-7 season, one in which Turner took over at quarterback to run the Wild Owl package and lead the team with 49 yards rushing and throwing his first touchdown pass since 2013, but he had one last memorable moment in him.  

Turner's production earned him a spot in the season's final postgame press conference, and what followed would quickly become a viral video sensation.  

His heartfelt thanks to his head coach, David Bailiff, for honoring a scholarship offer even after Turner had suffered a broken leg as a high school senior season.   The reaction to the video became so great that Tom Rinaldi from ESPN came to Houston the following week to tape a segment for that week's GameDay show.

The video eventually topped 750,00 views and stood as the most watched video on the Rice YouTube channel until this past week when a 2013 video of Chris Boswell's rabona onside kick vs. Houston was revived in the aftermath of Boswell's aborted attempt to repeat the kick in a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

 While the video enjoyed its moment in the fleeting fame cycle of cyberspace, its accessibility means his current students can call it up at any moment.

"The only time anyone brings it up is when my students ask me if there is any video from me playing at Rice." Turner said. "When they Google my name, that's the video that comes up.  Then they get on me for crying and ask me why there isn't anything of me actually playing.

"It's been crazy how the time went by so fast.  It's hard to believe it's been a year since that video went viral and ESPN came to town.   Now, here I am back in Gilmer, teaching and coaching football," Turner said.

Turner teaches computer classes and coaches the fullbacks for the seventh ranked Buckeyes who downed Dibol 50-28 on Thursday in the opening round of the Class 4A D2 playoffs.  He can't help but catch glimpses of himself in the current group of players and feel a definite connection.

"It has been amazing to come back where I learned the game of football," he noted. "It's fun to be able to coach kids who look up to me from my time playing here and then at Rice.  I had not been home much over the last four years during the season and it has been great to be back in this atmosphere with the tradition that has been built over the years. "

He admitted that one of his biggest challenges has been to dial back the passion he brought to the field.

"I had to adjust to a different kind of emotion during the game." He explained. "I'm into the game as much as ever,   but I can't show as much emotion as I did when I was playing.  I have to be there for these kids and helping them to keep their focus."

He's also gained a greater appreciation of things related to the 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 come home.   These kids are playing the game because they want to and because they love it.  When you've played so much football, you forget how special it was to get that first chance to take the field and there is nothing like offering a player that opportunity.

"Unlike in college where you go with the commitment to play football, these kids would be here going to school anyway.  They make the choice to come out here and put in the effort to compete and almost all of them will never play at the next level.  I appreciate so much what our guys do. We push them pretty hard because of the traditions that come with playing for Gilmer.

"I was lucky in that I got to play more football than 99% of the guys who have come through this program and even though most of the kids I coach are not likely to have that chance, what they bring every day is raw and real  and it's special to be here with them."

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 who had guided him on that journey now resonates with Turner from a different perspective. 

He is now the one who is the guide for the journey of others.

"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 more football.   There is real emotion when you 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 own reasons for playing and being a part of the tradition of Gilmer football, They have grown up with the game and watching this team as kids and now they wonder if each day if it will be the last practice."

Thankfully, that reality has been postponed for at least a week as the Buckeyes advanced, but short of a state championship, Turner knows his charges will face the reality of a career ending as the aftermath of a loss.

It's a scenario he hopes they can avoid, but one he is prepared to help them through.  

"Hopefully we can go all the way and they can walk off the field for the last time with a win but I know they all are better for having been our here and played the game. 

"And I know I am really happy to be here with them in Gilmer. "

 

 

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