Son of late Alabama star Kevin Turner making a difference at Clemson
By Tim Gayle
He has that same appeal, the handsome football player whose looks belie the fact that he’ll hit you with everything he’s got.
Clemson safeties coach Mickey Conn admits it can be a little eerie at times watching Tiger safety Nolan Turner.
Conn played football with Turner’s father Kevin at the University of Alabama in the early 1990s and can’t help but see the similarities between the father, who passed away in 2016 after a much-publicized battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and the son who joined the Clemson football team just months after his father’s death.
“I do, just in the way he handles himself, he’s so polite and just good to everybody,” Conn said. “It’s funny because they play opposite positions, so it’s really different as far as that goes. But Nolan is an incredible athlete. When you put him in a game situation, he’s always making plays.”
Sounds a lot like his father.
Kevin Turner emerged as a physical running back as a sophomore on Prattville High’s state championship team in 1984, but after losing seasons in 1985 and 1986 it seemed a little surprising when Crimson Tide coaches recruited Kevin to Tuscaloosa in 1987. By 1991, he had won hearts and minds with his performance as an undersized yet dependable fullback but it seemed a little surprising when he was selected by the New England Patriots in the NFL draft.
Eight years later, now a Philadelphia Eagle, only a career-ending neck injury could cut short the football career of a player whose heart and athletic ability made him a dependable teammate.
“Nolan is an unbelievable person,” Conn said. “His character and his work ethic is unbelievable. You start comparing him to his dad, their work ethic is side by side. Both are hard workers in practice. Everything he does is full speed. He’s quiet and reserved, about like his dad was, but he’s been great to coach.
“On special teams, he’s been phenomenal as a player. He’s got a huge upside. I think he’s going to be a great player for us.”
“It’s kind of cool, with them having their relationship and past experiences,” Turner said. “It’s cool for Coach Swinney to have his relationship with me and my family. It’s been good.”
After redshirting in 2016, Nolan became a special teams terror for the Tigers with two stops on kickoff coverage against Virginia Tech and South Carolina this season, along with two tackles against Louisville in a seven-play span and six tackles against The Citadel. He finished this season with 14 tackles.
“I think he’s exceeded the expectations, already, with his athletic ability,” Conn said. “He can run and jump, has great hips, is very athletic. And he’s big, too. He’s pushing 6-foot-2 and right at 200 pounds. He can really run. I think that’s the deceptive part. People don’t realize how fast and quick he is, how he can swivel his hips and change direction. And he’s very physical, just like his dad was. He does not shy away from contact at all.”
Kevin had just turned 41 when he revealed he had been diagnosed with ALS, a debilitating disease that gradually robbed him of the physique that had opened holes for Bobby Humphrey and Siran Stacy at Alabama and Ricky Watters with the Eagles. By the time he passed away in March, 2016, his ALS had been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, and Turner’s fight against the disease made him the face of the legal battle between players diagnosed with CTE and the NFL.
And while he never got to see his son in a Clemson uniform, Turner would have been proud of his son’s performance in the all-too-familiar No. 24.
“Coach Swinney is always telling me how I look just like him,” Turner said, “and when he sees me in my jersey it reminds him of my dad in college, which I think is pretty cool.”
An injury to his right foot slowed him in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Monday, but Turner seemed satisfied with his performance in the 2017 season.
“It’s been good,” he said. “Obviously, as a team, we’ve had a lot of success. I’ve been playing a bunch on special teams and it’s been a good experience to get on the field and actually play, even though it’s not a bunch of snaps on defense. I’ve definitely learned a lot and I’ve gained a lot of experience this season.”
As the defending national champions made their third consecutive appearance in the College Football Playoffs, Turner admitted it was a little strange facing the team he had grown up all his life adoring, the team his father brought back to glory in the early 1990s.
“It’s kind of weird how this whole thing is working out, being in the Sugar Bowl here and playing against Alabama,” he said. “All my friends go to Alabama. My family cheers for Alabama. Going back home is always fun, hearing from them about the games.”
But Turner says he has a difficult time reflecting on the years he spent pulling for the Tide.
“Honestly, it doesn’t feel that way any more,” he said. “They’re the enemy now.”