For Josh Turner, last Saturday’s contest against Baylor was a game of firsts.
He recorded his first collegiate start, first ever tackle for loss, and most importantly, first career interception.
The pick came in the second quarter of a 28-28, back-and-forth game. Baylor quarterback Nick Florence was looking to hit Lanear Sampson on a post route over the middle but overshot his target by a few yards. Turner, who was playing back at safety, made a break on the ball, dove and plucked the ball right before it hit the turf to secure the interception.
“We were in thirds,” Turner said of the play. “I was in right third, and I was just reading the quarterback. I saw that he kind of overthrew the receiver, and I was just trying to make a play on the ball.”
The pick was a huge momentum swing in the game, and perhaps a symbol of many more firsts to come for Turner.
Turner, the Oklahoman who scorned his native Sooners to come play in Austin. Turner, the corner turned safety who didn’t utter a word of complaint in the offseason because he enjoyed the challenge of switching positions so much. And Turner, the young safety whose playmaking ability rivals that of former Longhorn greats Aaron Ross, Earl Thomas and Nathan Vasher, according to his position coach Duane Akina.
“He has a knack for the ball,” Akina said. “That is one of the things that really stands out with him. He has some nice natural instincts for the football.”
His interception against Baylor was a perfect example of that. He was naturally instinctive on his break to the ball and when he reached it his natural athleticism took control.
“It was a super catch, and he is one of the few guys out there that is capable of making that play,” Akina said. “You know moving to his right, having to come back, ball off his body. He did a nice job of rolling.”
His athleticism gave him the aptitude to make the spectacular play, but it’s his dogged work ethic that’s allowed him to switch positions seamlessly from his freshman to sophomore year.
Turner played corner in his first season on the 40 Acres, but with the departure of four-year starter Blake Gideon, the Longhorns needed more depth at safety. Akina, who likes to cross-train his defensive backs, thought Turner would be the perfect fit to make the switch.
It wasn’t an immediate success story by any means. It took Turner a while to get the hang of the position, and even now he has the occasional stumble, missed assignment or whiffed tackle attempt.
But Turner recovers from those mistakes quickly, in part because of his will to improve and his desire to be pushed to the limit. And Akina has no qualms about granting his request in practice. Akina is intense and relentless in his frenzied devotion to making his players better, which means he is often forced to show a little tough love.
It doesn’t bother Turner a bit.
“If he’s hard on me then he actually sees potential in me,” Turner said. “Whereas if he didn’t say anything that’s when you have to start to get worried.”
Because of his lofty standards, Akina is a hard person to please. Turner’s teammates were impressed by his showing against Baylor — just not surprised. The performance served only to confirm what they perceive every day.
“He showed me what I already knew,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “In practice, he makes a lot of plays. He’s a playmaker. He’s real disciplined, and he played good against a good offense.”
Turner watches film every day, striving to get better. He studies tape after practice, on the bus, after class and every night before he heads to sleep.
With all of that work one would think Turner reach the point of exasperation. But, in the polite manner of the soft-spoken defensive back, he had a rebuttal for that conclusion. His answer was short, but went a long way in explaining his success.
“No sir,” Turner said. “You can never get tired of watching film.”
Printed on Friday, October 26, 2012 as: Turner's instinctive nature allows him to flourish