When A.J. Turner took up the game of football around the age of 5, his mother wasn’t too keen on the idea. She worried about “her baby” getting hit.
But it didn’t take much for Turner’s father convince his wife that she had nothing to worry about when it came to their son and tackle football. “Nobody’s going to catch him anyway, so it doesn’t matter,” Turner recalls him saying.
Some 10 years later, the story remains the same for Turner, who through three games has been nearly untouchable as Centreville‘s junior running back/defensive back/kick returner. Though he’s touched the ball fewer than 30 times and never played past the third quarter during the No. 3 Wildcats’ 3-0 start, Turner has scored seven touchdowns (four rushing, two kick returns, one receiving) to go with two interceptions.
“I think A.J. Turner is one of the most dynamic and talented players in the state,” Centreville Coach Chris Haddock said before the season. “When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s pretty dangerous and he also makes spectacular plays on defense.”
Turner didn’t enter this season as a secret. As a sophomore last season, he rushed for 1,213 yards on 143 attempts (8.5 yards per carry) and totaled 18 touchdowns. Now with a year of varsity under his belt, Turner carries a greater confidence in his ability to speed past and shake off defenders.
“Last year turned out well, but I was definitely nervous at first,” Turner said. “Now I’m more comfortable and confident because I’ve already seen what teams bring at this level. I know I have the speed and strength to do what I want out there, and now as I’ve been working on my alignment and steps, I feel like I can do even more.”
With the Wildcats returning 18 starters from a year ago and the first three games being decided by a margin of 139-30, Turner doesn’t have to shoulder the load. But he’s certainly played his role to the fullest.
Turner has rushed for 198 yards on 17 carries (11.6 yards per attempt) and caught three passes for 58 yards. The junior’s efficiency might make one think he’s always gunning for the big play, but as a two-way starter, Turner has learned the importance of playing with wisdom and discipline.
“Coach Haddock told me recently that our offense is designed to get three yards a play and if we get more, that’s just gravy on the potatoes,” Turner said. “Obviously, we’re capable of big plays but if I know I can’t score on a play, I’m not just going to try and truck a defender just to do it; I’m going to be smart with the ball.”
Turner’s vision complements the many other skills packed into his 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame, leading major Football Bowl Subdivision schools like Penn State, Oregon, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Nebraska and South Carolina to show strong interest in the junior, who has yet to receive an offer. But even amidst the attention, fast start and blowout wins, Turner remains motivated by a desire to outwork the competition and lead by example.
“My work ethic is a big deal to me, so whenever I have a chance to run full speed in practice, I’m always going 100 percent hard,” Turner said. “We can’t slack if we want to reach out goals for the year.”
NUMBER CRUNCH: 2
Quarterbacks that Potomac (Va.) features in its offense. Fletcher Washington and Terry Sewell have both excelled under center to lead the Panthers to a 2-1 mark entering Friday’s contest against Battlefield.
— Despite being separated from his mother at the age of 10 and working to help support his family, Forestville’s Marcel Joly has excelled on the gridiron and earned a spot with Iowa’s football program, writes Chelsea Janes.
— After splitting their two meetings last season, No. 18 DuVal and No. 13 Suitland will face off again Saturday in a key Prince George’s 4A contest.
— Dunbar looks to continue its undefeated start and remain atop the DCIAA Stars standings when it takes on upstart Ballou on Friday.
— Friday’s contest between Thomas Stone and North Point will mark a battle between two strong running backs in Stone’s Juwann Briscoe and the Eagles’ Marquel Dickerson.
— Einstein senior defender Joel Rufino and Richard Montgomery running back Liam Duffy are emerging as two of the area’s stronger players.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
No. 7 Good Counsel (3-2) at No. 1 DeMatha (4-1), 7 p.m.
The winners of the last 10 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference football titles will renew their rivalry in a much-anticipated matchup. Good Counsel looks to bounce back from its first loss in WCAC play since 2010 while DeMatha hopes to snap its four-game losing streak against the Falcons.
Check out Friday’s full football schedule here.