Written by Brandon George
George: Arlington Sam Houston 'Superstar' QB endures tragedy
ARLINGTON - Just a little more than a month ago, on the last Thursday in August, Arlington Sam Houston quarterback Jamal Turner was starting his morning like he had done so many others in his life by playing football. This was supposed to be the start of several glorious days to come in a senior year filled with high expectations for the standout recruit who had already orally committed to Nebraska.
Practicing with his teammates during first period, preparing for the Texans' season opener the next day at Crowley, Turner was stopped in his tracks when a police officer walked up to him and asked where his mother lived. Turner told the man the address, and the police officer delivered the bad news.
Turner's 41-year-old mother, Rusty Turner, had died after an 11-year battle with multiple sclerosis.
"I kind of blanked out for a minute," Turner recalled. "I had to sit there, and everything just stopped at that moment. It was crazy."
Turner, who primarily lived with his uncle and aunt, Darnell and Jennifer Robinson, had just visited his mom the previous Tuesday at her apartment.
"I had left practice to see her. I went over and got something to drink and talked to her for five minutes," Turner said. "One day she'd be perfectly fine and the other day she'd have bad migraines and wouldn't be feeling well. It was really hard. Sometimes I couldn't talk to her because she was in so much pain. But on that Tuesday, she was doing really well. She was happy and up playing with me and laughing. I kissed her on the cheek and told her that I love her."
With the season opener the next day, Turner had to decide whether to sit out the game or play. After talking with his family and coaches, Turner decided that his mother would have wanted him to play.
The next night, with a heavy heart and memories of his mother racing through his head, Turner led Sam Houston to a thrilling 51-48 victory over Crowley. Turner had the game of his life, rushing for 324 yards and five touchdowns and passing for 119 yards and another touchdown.
"I knew that she would not want me to sit around and mope and cry," Turner said. "We won, and I feel like that was God telling me, 'Everything is OK,' and she's in a better place and a lot better now. It was a good choice to play."
Turner (6-0, 175) is in his third season as Sam Houston's starting quarterback under coach Danny Edelman. In four games this season, Turner has used his 4.4 speed to rush for 948 yards - 140 more than any other Class 5A area player - and 15 touchdowns. He's also passed for 515 yards and two touchdowns.
Last year, Turner passed and rushed for more than 1,800 yards each, combining for 32 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he passed for 2,611 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 442 yards and nine scores.
"Jamal is a superstar," said Sam Houston senior offensive lineman Tony Morales, who has committed to Texas Tech. "With the ball in his hands, he can do whatever he wants. His change of direction is so good. He's incredible."
Turner's mother watched several of his big games, but his oldest brother, Richard Williams, never had that chance. Three years before his mother died, Turner dealt with tragedy for the first time. During his freshman year, he had to attend the funeral of Williams, who at 21 died in a motorcycle accident in Arlington.
"I've always told him despite what he's going through, take the negative and turn it into a positive," said Darnell Robinson, the youth pastor at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie who taught Turner how to play football and served as his father figure. "He takes all of his negative hurt and just focuses on the task at hand."
Edelman said Turner, who plans to graduate in December and be on campus for Nebraska's spring practices, is a remarkable young man who was born to lead.
"He's been accountable to every kid and every coach in this program. We couldn't be any prouder of him," Edelman said. "We met with Jamal the day his mother passed. Without me being able to say anything, he said, 'Coach, I'm playing tomorrow night.' Again, it just goes back to one of the characteristics this young man has, being able to persevere through some pretty serious situations."
Though he's had to deal with the death of his oldest brother and mother, Turner said he's living a dream every day by playing football. He used to sneak into Sam Houston's games as a child and always wanted to play for the Texans. The tragedy in his life has only strengthened him.
"A lot of times, I want to give up and quit or cry, but what I've been through has made me a stronger person," he said. "And it's hard. I still cry. When I'm alone, I think about it a lot. But from my experiences, it's going to help me out in the long run."