Junior Antonio Turner has - to this point - had a strange football career at Ole Miss, but it appears that may be changing quickly.
Recapping, the Orlando, FL, native played in nine games as a true freshman in 2005 as a running back - the position he was signed to play out of high school.
But in the spring of 2006, Antonio was switched to linebacker and fell off the playing map, going from a contributor and the team's second-leading rusher to virtually non-existant.
"When it came down to it, I wasn't ready at linebacker to play in games, plus we had Patrick Willis and Rory Johnson and a bunch of linebackers who knew the position better than I did," explains Turner. "The spring of 2006, I was just kind of feeling my way."
Then, during the 2006 season, when the Rebel defense was battered by injury, his development as a linebacker took another turn that didn't afford him much opportunity to get on the field on Saturdays.
"We needed bodies at positions just to be able to practice," Antonio said without any regret. "I played all the defensive line positions in practice and some linebacker. The coaches needed me to do that just so we could have competitive workouts and I was willing.
"I wasn't going to see any playing time at LB that year anyway, so whatever was best for the team I was willing to do."
Some in the Rebel fan base wondered, and asked repeatedly, if Antonio was still on the team. And some of the blunt ones questioned his value and his effectiveness with "bust" being a common thought.
"I know it seemed like I wasn't helping the team because I was almost invisible on game days, but I think I was doing my part in helping the guys who were going to play get prepared," he added.
Because of the anonymity and obscurity of 2006, Turner was not considered a real viable candidate to challenge for the starting Sam LB slot in spring of 2007.
After all, stud athlete Ashlee Palmer, a JUCO transfer, would also play there and the common thinking was that he would easily beat Antonio out.
While Palmer did turn heads by making big plays in spring while adjusting to LB from safety, Turner also impressed the coaches.
"It was exciting being with the Red (1) defense in the spring game. It was good to contribute and to make an impression on the coaches," he said. "After last year, I knew my time was going to come and I just needed to keep working and be patient.
"Now I have to take advantage of the opportunity to show what I can do at linebacker."
Turner says his task will not be easy - he can feel Palmer breathing down his neck.
"I'm ahead right now because I had some experience there and Ashlee is brand new to Sam LB," Antonio said. "He's a great athlete and when he learns everything he needs to know, he will be hard to beat out. But we pull for each other and help each other, so the best man wins. It's neck and neck right now and a good competition. We are both learning and helping each other."
Turner's biggest adjustment to linebacker has been in coverages.
"In our defense, the Sam is like a standup defensive end who mostly has tight end coverage responsibilities," he continued. "I'm doing well in run support, but sometimes it's hard covering guys like Robert Hough and Robert Lane who can really run. They make it look like they are staying in to block and then they put a move on you and go into a route. You have to be alert."
Turner came to Ole Miss as a 220-pounder. He's now at 235 and wants more.
"I like to be physical. I like the contact part of football, but at Sam you have to be big and strong," Antonio said. "I want to come in during August at 250 and lose down to 240 in the heat. I want to play at 240."
Antonio's goal is to start at Sam LB, but he's also working with the coaches to get on the field in other ways too.
"I feel I can be a difference-maker in games and I don't care where it is I'm playing - I just want to play," he noted. "I'm on all the special teams right now and I want to stay there. I like special teams and that gives you a way to show the coaches what you can do."
Antonio still remembers his days as a running back, but he knows those days are over and he's fine with that.
"Once a running back, always a running back," he laughed, "but I know where my bread it buttered now. I see our running backs - and we have some good ones - making big runs and I say 'I can do that - but now I'm going to have to hit you and take you to the ground.' It's all part of it."
There's an urgency with Antonio. Look for that to surface in 2007.
"Half my career is over. The clock is ticking. I need to make an impact now," he closed.
Antonio Turner update -
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