LINCOLN, Neb. - Many point to Jamal Turner's game winning touchdown against Michigan State last season as a turning point in the Texas product's career.
While the play gave him confidence on the field, something else was likely the contributing factor when it comes to the Nebraska receiver's overall new demeanor, work ethic, and leadership at the position.
After a promising start to his freshman season in 2011, Turner's playing time dropped significantly shortly after the start of the conference portion of the schedule. The coaches were trying to send a message to the converted high school quarterback – learn how to be a complete receiver and get your head into the playbook.
“I was just out here running around and wanting the ball. I didn’t understand anything like the play concepts or anything,” Turner said in the spring after his first season. “When we started the offense if you couldn’t block, you wouldn’t play. It was hard for me coming from quarterback because I haven’t ever blocked anybody in my life. Then coming to this position I am blocking linebackers and stuff like that.”
Turner worked on his craft and the playing time came back – his overall presence in the box score didn't. Turner wasn't finding the end zone and was frustrated about it. The sophomore actually put a self-imposed media gag on himself, vowing to not talk to reporters until he scored.
Eventually the touchdown came, none other than in the game winning variety. It immediately bolstered Turner's confidence.
"I feel like a way better wide receiver. I feel the team looks at me differently,” said Turner at the time. “When we need a big play, they look at me to make it because of that one touchdown. It's definitely a confidence booster."
He took that confidence into last spring and showed he could be a force for the Huskers in the slot. But even more impressive was Turner's change off the field according to teammates. He was becoming a leader at the position, a positive influence younger guys could look up to. He was also spending more time in the film room and studying his game.
Hotshot freshman to film room savant all because of one touchdown? It didn't add up.
It wasn't until this writer dug a little deeper that I realized Turner's transformation started before his touchdown against Michigan State. It actually happened about a month and a half prior – his name was Ayden.
“When I had my child, it kind of opened my eyes. No one has ever asked me the question, but I felt like I took the game more serious. Not just the game, but life in general,” said Turner, who became a father on September, 20th, 2012. “I had to grow up. It's basically what I did.”
While playing for his teammates and Jamal Turner was still important to him, he realized he had a huge responsibility.
“Other than my family on this team, I'm playing for my family at home,” said Turner. “I figured, I have a family now and I never want my child to go hungry or homeless. I have to do what I have to do for my family, whether it's go pro or find a good job, I have to support my family. Having my child totally changed my mindset about everything.”
Turner has a perfect healthy 11-month old boy and the junior wide receiver's life and game will never be the same because of it.
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