Rice at Charlotte
Saturday 1 p.m. Central
Jerry Richardson Stadium
First things first... No one calls Luke Turner "Bob" these
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.
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
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. "