State of the Hogs: Arkansan All the Way

Arkansas safety Alan Turner wants to be clear about his roots, especially this week. Turner is NOT from Louisiana.

Alan Turner doesn't bat an eye when he says he's from Arkansas. There is no hesitation, no discussion.

It's not just this week when his Arkansas team will be playing at Baton Rouge against Louisiana State. It's anytime you want to ask the Razorback junior strong safety.

Turner doesn't want to be from Louisiana, ever. Only thing wrong with that, the 6-0, 200-pounder did grow up just a few hundred yards across the border. Never mind that he's a Junction City, Ark., graduate.

"He did," confirms Junction City coach Dave Carpenter on Wednesday. "But he doesn't claim it."

Junction City has some funny twists like that. It's a friendly situation, but some of the folks there are LSU fans, although a simple majority do favor the Razorbacks.

"We have color day," Carpenter said. "We let the kids – and teachers – show their color. And we'll have a pep rally. There will be a lot of red and a lot of purple. It's interesting to see."

There's been more red over the last four seasons during the color day pep rally. That's because two of Junction City's finest wear Razorback red. Byran Jones and Turner are Dragons first in Junction City, but it's clear that their decision to go to Arkansas brought the town together more than less as Razorback fans.

"Yes, they have," Carpenter said. "Everyone loves those two young men down here. Everyone."

Most knew that Jones would star at Arkansas. He was considered one of the two or three best players in Arkansas when he committed to the Hogs, despite playing for the Class 2A Dragons. At 6-2, 318, Jones was an immediate starter. He was one of the strongest players on campus as soon as he arrived.

It was different for Turner. He had other scholarship offers, but Arkansas was really the only Division I suitor. Some thought it was, to quote former Arkansas head coach Danny Ford, the "calf with the cow" deal. Not Carpenter.

"I knew Alan would play at Arkansas," Carpenter said. "I always knew it. I think the Arkansas coaches were sure, too. It was good that Byran was here because they did come to see him. But as soon as they looked at tape of Byran, they couldn't help but see Alan, too.

"Every time someone saw Byran, they couldn't help but like Alan, too. I think some others were warming up to him at the end. For anyone who saw Alan, it wasn't really a hard sell at all."

OK, here's the better question: Did Carpenter envision Turner developing into the Hogs' leading tackler? He goes into the LSU game with 86 stops, 16 more than anyone else. Linebackers Braylon Mitchell (70) and Jarrett Lake (69) and safety Eric Bennett (68) are closest to Turner.

"I really did," Carpenter said. "I knew he could play that position, strong safety. That's where we used him, running back and strong safety. He was such an aggressive kid. I saw him playing like this, I did. He's so aggressive and he does the best with what he has as far as ability. Now this is the key, he's an extremely hard worker."

Told Turner claims Arkansas as his home, Carpenter kind of chuckled.

"I understand that," Carpenter said. "Those kids that grew up across the line, they lived in Louisiana, but because the school is on this side, that's all they know, Arkansas. They are going to tell you they are from Arkansas. They are proud that the school is in Arkansas."

Turner didn't see himself leading the team in tackles. Well, it's kind of hard to see that when you began fall camp as the backup free safety. Rohan Gaines was the top man on the depth chart, but went down with a knee injury in two-a-days. And Gaines was coveted as a nickel linebacker anyway, so defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who coaches the safeties, moved Turner and didn't dare upset the apple cart even when Gaines got healthy.

Ash sounds a lot like Carpenter did four years ago when he talks about consistency and dedication to his assignment and the ability to lead despite a low-key attitude. Ash recalls recently filling out a request from head coach Bret Bielema that ultimately pointed to Turner.

"Well, honestly, about a week or two ago," Ash said, "Coach B asked us to list who we thought were some of the best players were on our side of the ball and I listed Alan Turner as one of our better players and the reason is every week he shows up and he's the same player. He's not perfect. He doesn't make every play, doesn't make every tackle. But the thing that he does do is he goes extremely hard and he tries to play physical.

"If we can get those two things out of everybody on the defense, I think we've got a chance to improve and win some games. But I've been very, very pleased and very happy with what he's givign us each week."

It's not uncommon for a strong safety to sit atop the tackle charts.

"With the way we structure our defense, we need to get the safeties involved," Ash said. "When you're talking about teams that run the ball like some of the teams do in this league, especially with the quarterback, you need to use the safeties in the run game. We're not good enough to say we're going to be a two deep (alignment) team and keep the safeties out of it. They're going to get production, and they better."

Turner said, "To be honest, I didn't think I would be leading the team. But it's a good thing. I'm just doing whatever I can to help the team, help the defense. At strong safety, you are in the box a little bit more and so you are down there for the run."

Carpenter said it was only a matter of time before Turner settled in as a tackler leader.

"I'd talk to him when he came home for Christmas each year," Carpenter said. "Those kids are always up at the gym playing basketball and I'd see him. He just had to work and wait his time and develop. I'm so proud of him for what he's done. But I am not surprised.

"Everytime he comes home, he's positive and up beat and tells me that he's just working hard and his time is coming.

"I look forward to Saturday. We've got a playoff game here (against Hector) Friday night. But on Friday afternoon, we'll have the TV turned on in the field house to watch Alan and Byran against LSU. It's a big game in our community. We do have a lot of LSU fans around, but we will all be pulling for Alan and Byran."

Turner would love nothing better than to snap the eight-game losing streak at LSU. He'll have his chance to play a big role, as Arkansas safeties try to handle LSU's big running backs led by 235-pound Jeremy Hill. Turner said the victory drought has not changed the bond in the locker room.

"We're just a group of brothers just trying to go out there to get a win," Turner said. "I mean, the games haven't come out like we wanted them to. But I feel like as a whole we're still together and we're still just trying to get better each and every day."

That's the Alan Turner that David Carpenter remains proud to say is from Junction City. And just for Alan Turner, we'll list it as Junction City, Arkansas.

There will be a lot of Junction City in the stands Saturday. Head coach Bret Bielema said Turner's request for tickets numbered as many as 20 late in the week.

"When you play in front of your loved ones, some great things tend to happen," Bielema said. "I know he's excited about this game."

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