It’s hard to imagine Jerry Kill nearly redshirted freshman running back Craig Turner- he has now rushed for 208 yards on just 15 carries

By Gus Bode

Craig Turner was returning a punt on what turned out to be a season-saving play, improbably breaking tackles and out-running the rest of the pack to the end zone.

During the run people were screaming, rejuvenated on what had seemed like a disastrous homecoming. But Turner could not even hear them – that is, until he got to the end zone.

Before the run, as always, he was in his own world. As the snap approached, Turner talked to himself about where to run, where to run back to if he made it there, and at the same time tried to remember his part in an offense he is still learning.


It was not until he made it to the end zone that he realized what happened or, for that matter, broke out of his on-field tunnel vision.

“You break the big one and you’re still running by yourself, and then the crowd just kicks in and you get excited,” Turner said.

That type of focus, maturity and poise is rare in a true freshman, and it’s one of the major reasons Turner has thrown his name into an already talented and crowded Saluki backfield.

In the three games since head coach Jerry Kill removed his redshirt, Turner has been out of this world. He has only 15 carries and has not a started a game, but Turner has accumulated 208 yards – averaging an unreal 13.9 yards per carry.

It’s an average Turner himself can’t believe, and he would offer no conjecture as to whether he could keep it up. He approaches any questions about his performance and the future in rather simplistic terms.

“I’m going to do my best and run the rock,” Turner said, eluding to what he does best and wearing what is becoming a trademark shy smile.

So far, Turner has made a living out of running into a pack and somehow coming out of the other end still on his feet. Some on the team, including Turner, cannot explain it.


But Kill has a theory, and compared him to former fullback Brandon Robinson – probably the highest praise any fullback can receive at SIU.

“He has great balance, He’s a 5-10 guy, his feet never get too high off the ground and if you watch, his feet are always moving,” Kill said. “They never stop. When you got a kid whose feet never stop, he can get out of those piles.”

Kill has been just plain giddy about Turner’s performance, saying on multiple occasions the freshman back’s performance is making him look like a genius on and off the field.

Another reason Kill loves him so much is that Turner is squeaky clean as they come and has a good attitude to go with his heap of talent.

Turner seems just as obsessed with his major, physical therapy, as he is with football. Even as they work on him, Turner is interrogating the trainers to learn their techniques.

Looking back, Kill can’t quite figure out how Turner ever made it to Southern Illinois. Turner, at fullback, ran a 4.45 40-yard dash before he even started this season, and said he is even faster now.

Turner was recruited by a few Division I schools, but not quite hard enough, and assistant coach Jay Sawvel managed to pluck him out of Louisiana.

“We’re very fortunate to get him,” Kill said. “How he’s at Southern Illinois, I’ll never know.”

Running backs coach Rob Reeves has been mightily impressed with Turner since his high school days. He said when the team was recruiting him, he saw that Turner had “it.”

“Whatever ‘it’ is, he’s got ‘it,'” Reeves said. “We knew that recruiting him.”

In addition to “it,” Turner has been holding his own at blocking, making him even more of a lethal weapon.

Even Elmer McDaniel, SIU’s All-American center and a man who could make his living by blocking in the future, has been impressed with Turner.

“He’s just getting better every game, and I’m looking for big things from him,” McDaniel said.

He does not always know who exactly to block, but Kill is so confident in Turner’s blocking ability he has him in the center during kickoff returns. Kill said if Turner blocks the right guy, he’s out of the play.

“When he locks on you, it’s over,” Kill said.

Turner still thinks he has a ways to go on his blocking technique, which is normal for a freshman. What is abnormal is that he admits he knows he has a lot of work to do.

Kill said Turner is very focused for a freshman and, if he doesn’t catch the complacency bug Kill calls “freshmanitis,” he could be beyond amazing his senior year.

He may even eclipse the great Brandon Robinson.

“I think his best days are yet to come,” Reeves said.