Sleeper RB Slated To Visit UT

His name isn't Rip Van Winkle but in terms of being a sleeper he belongs in that category.

How hidden are the attributes Augusta. Ark., running back/linebacker James Turner? Well consider that he is currently being offered football scholarships from three Division I schools and Arkansas isn't one of them.

However Tennessee is offering a scholarship along with in-state D-I newcomer Arkansas State. The other is Big Ten powerhouse Iowa which indicates Turner isn't being completely overlooked and that the competition for his services remains real.

"I had a real good time." Turner told The Insiders' Iowa site after his Dec. 12 visit. "They have some great people, and it is easy to get around. They are strong academically, and they play strong on the field. I really liked the coaches, and the players were cool, too."

Turner, 6-0, 205, remains highly interested in relocating to Iowa City after graduation. He visits Tennessee Jan. 16, the first of back-to-back whopper weekends in which as many as 30 or more premiere prospects are expected to converge on Knoxville.

Whether the "premiere" tag applies to Turner is a matter of opinion. It is fair to say he hasn't caught fire in the minds of most college coaches or recruiting analysts. Example: The Insiders have him listed a one-star, non-rated prospect. It's also fair to say he has an impressive array of gridiron talents.

As a junior, he compiled 1,603 yards and 17 touchdowns with an 8.4-yard per carry average and was one of the Red Devils top tacklers at outside linebacker. Augusta, one of the state's elite Class-AA football programs, helped lead the Red Devils to a 8-3 mark in 2002 and a 7-3 record in 2003. Unfortunately, both campaigns ended in first round playoff defeats and Turner never got that big stage upon which to display his skills.

This year he gained just over 1,500 yards in ten games for an impressive 150-yard per game average, but the combined 3,100 yards in two seasons wasn't impressive enough to attract the Razorbacks' interest.

"To my knowledge Arkansas hasn't shown much interest," said Augusta head coach Heath Prine. "Maybe he had a quiet 1,500 yards. He had some games where he'd have 80 or 90 yards and then he'd have a big game. Against Harding Academy, I believe he had 323 yards. The final score in that game was 50-48. We couldn't stop their pass and they couldn't stop our run."

Turner also displayed the size, speed and instincts to play outsider linebacker at the next level.

"I try not to be one dimensional," Turner said. "I like contact, and I can shake you in the open field."

Turner fits the mode of such recent UT successes at outside linebacker, like Eddie Moore and Eric Westmoreland, who excelled as running backs in high school.

"We ran a 4-3 (defense)." Prine said. "He played outside linebacker for us and did a great job. He was our second leading tackler."

Turner, who is being recruited for UT by Steve Caldwell, finished third in the high hurdles at the state's Meet of Champs track competition and he's an avid advocate of strength training.

"Through the season he showed a lot of dedication and he has a real good attitude," said Prine. "He's continued lifting weights after the season and is really excited about playing college football."

Arkansas State will probably get a visit from Turner and there are other major programs are showing more interest, but it looks to be a two team race between Iowa and Tennessee.

"I'm just looking for a program where I can play and am surrounded by good people," Turner said when discussing his criteria for selecting a school. "Academics are the main thing, or wherever I fit in best, it doesn't have to be the best school in the country. Just someone who is interested in me and I feel comfortable with them."

For what it's worth, Turner likes to be Tennessee when competing in PlayStation 2's NCAA football. Maybe his joystick will lead him to Volunteer.

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