Bill Cronin hadn't seen Silvester Turner in 15 years, but he
recognized him the moment Turner walked into his office last
April. "He had that big grin on his face," Cronin says. "I knew
exactly who he was." Turner had come to tell Cronin that he
wanted to play college football again. Cronin was amused--a
comeback at age 34?--but not nonplussed. After all, during his
13 years as a coach at Georgetown (Ky.) College, the last two as
head coach, about 75 former players with remaining eligibility
have asked about the possibility of coming back. A handful have
followed through. But as Cronin told Turner what he would have
to do to regain his eligibility, the coach sensed that this
might be one comeback kid who was going places. "He had that
gleam in his eye," Cronin says.
Last Saturday, Turner started his fourth game of the season at
cornerback for Georgetown, an NAIA school located 12 miles north
of Lexington. The eighth-ranked Tigers improved to 5-0 with a
43-17 win over Belhaven College. The 6'1", 190-pound Turner may
be the only college football player whose position coach is
seven years his junior, but he's proving he can hold his own
with the MTV set. He's sixth on the team in tackles (with 19),
third in interceptions (two) and first in self-pinches (743).
"Sometimes I ask him how he's doing, and he just laughs," says
defensive coordinator Dave Campbell, who was a freshman teammate
of Turner's at Georgetown 16 years ago. "He's so happy, he can't
even put it into words."
As a reed-thin freshman in the fall of '82, Turner lacked the
diligence to succeed academically. He ended up dropping out of
school to work at Gulf States Paper Corp. in Nicholasville, Ky.,
It took 11 years of working in that factory before Turner
decided it was finally quittin' time. He called his supervisor
while he was on vacation with his girlfriend, Susan Etling, and
their two children, Devin, now 5, and Dominique, 3. "I knew if I
went back into that factory, somebody was going to talk me out
of quitting," Turner says.
Turner enrolled at Kentucky in the fall of 1995. The following
autumn he started working part time as a supervisor at the
university's Seaton Center, an athletic complex where, during
his daily workouts, Turner was often mistaken for a varsity
athlete. One day in the spring of '97 he read a newspaper
article that explained the NAIA's rules which allowed an athlete
10 semesters, with no time limit, to complete four years of
eligibility. He decided to give it the old small-college try at
Georgetown. "I'm the type who's not complacent with just one
thing happening in my life," he says.
Turner filled out the requisite transfer and financial aid forms
and reported for practice the first week of August. When he ran
the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, the coaches were so stunned
that they asked him to run it two more times. Just minutes after
he entered Georgetown's season opener, against Iowa Wesleyan,
Turner returned an interception for 28 yards. He has started
each of the Tigers' games since.
To qualify to play football one more season, Turner has decided
to continue his studies at Kentucky next spring and then
transfer back to Georgetown in the fall of '99. He plans to
marry Etling and start his teaching career, but first he wants
to take a shot at playing in the NFL. The notion of making such
a leap at age 35 seems preposterous, but Cronin thinks that some
teams may invite Turner to camp on the basis of his speed alone.
Don't forget that gleam in his eye. "Nothing's impossible,"
Turner says. "If I get my skills sharpened, and if someone wants
to give me a look, I think I could get out there with those
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN F. GRIESHOP When Turner (making tackle, right) ran the 40 in 4.4 seconds, his stunned Georgetown coaches made him run it again--twice.[Silvester Turner making tackle in game]