Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
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After-thought Turner matures into leader
Arkansas safety Alan Turner speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
FAYETTEVILLE -- It was never a kangaroo court, Bible study or bull sessions.
When the Arkansas Razorbacks decided to meet during the summer -- without coaches, of course -- it was about unity, leadership and fundamental football.
"We talked formations and alignments," senior safety Alan Turner said. "We talked about class work and doing the right things, making good decisions and representing the University of Arkansas in a positive way."
Turner, one of the leaders of the defensive meetings, along with fellow seniors Trey Flowers and Tevin Mitchel, has always been about preparation. No one has to remind him of film sessions and, "I've never even dozed off in one. Watching film is to help us prepare mentally.
"Being prepared mentally helps you understand the game, makes the plays slow down and lets you react the right way."
Turner was the leading tackler on last year's team with 97, but he said he's heard a few people say, you don't really want a safety to be the leading tackler.
"I've heard it a lot," he said with a laugh and then added, "but I want to do whatever it takes to help the team."
In a way, Turner has been a pleasant surprise for Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema and his staff. Turner was more or less discovered because he was a high school teammate of defensive tackle Byran Jones at Junction City. They have been best friends since pre-school and grew up less than 200 yards from each other.
Turner redshirted as a true freshman, then played on special teams for a season, started twice the next year but played in all 12 games, and last year became a starter, although it took a hard, personal decision for him to start every game.
Before the Southern Miss game, his father died after a battle with cancer. Turner talked to his mom and then decided to not go home until after the game.
"It is what my dad would have wanted me to do," he said.
Turner had seven tackles and broke up a pass in one of Arkansas' rare victories.
No one has ever questioned Turner's heart and decision making.
Listed at 6-0, 204 pounds, Turner doesn't have great speed, but he's athletic (check out his dunk on YouTube) and tenacious. He's played with a lot of bumps and bruises, but to him they are aches and pains, not injuries.
He's a grinder, a guy who puts everything he has into every play. The only plays he takes off are the ones when he's on the sideline, which is rare when the Hogs are on defense.
It was all of that and his assuming more of a leadership role that led to Bielema picking him, along with Flowers and Brey Cook, to represent the Razorbacks at SEC football media days last month.
Turner has been in the process of growing into an adult almost since he stepped foot on campus, even during the transition years.
"It happens to most guys after they get on college campus," he said. "In high school they were a star, but so is every person you are competing with in college. I learned pretty quick I had to be the most mentally prepared."
Every facet of his growth was accelerated for one reason:
"Coach Bielema," he said. "He sincerely believes in every one of us as a person. He wants us to grow and develop as football players, but it goes much deeper than that. He cares about us as people."
Most of the recruiting services rated Turner as a two-star prospect, a guy who might contribute on special teams and as a spot player. But you can't grade what kind of heart and soul a young player will develop.
Alan Turner didn't have much to think about when Arkansas offered him a scholarship five years ago, but he hasn't stopped thinking since stepping foot on campus, making himself into a starter who will graduate in December.
Sports on 08/12/2014