Randy York's N-Sider
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Editor's note: Beginning today, Randy York is writing his N-Sider column as a daily Countdown to Big Red Saturday. His "Eight Days a Week" lineup also includes: Sunday: Ron Brown; Monday: Carl Pelini; Tuesday: Baseball's home-grown talent; Wednesday: Volleyball's "converted" Nebraskans; Thursday: Taylor Martinez; Friday: Bo Pelini; Saturday (April 16): John Papuchis.
Next Saturday's forecast for Lincoln is mostly sunny with an expected high temperature of 63 degrees and 10 percent chance of rain - ideal weather for another Nebraska Red-White Spring Football Game, don't you think?
Better jump online now and buy those tickets if you want to see what Prince Amukamara discovered last weekend when he decided to watch his former Husker teammates in a game-like scrimmage.
"I was watching and waiting for a big play to happen when I saw No. 10. I was wondering who that was because it was Roy's (Helu) number. I just saw him make some really, really shifty moves," Amukamara said Thursday. "He broke a tackle, got open and showed great athleticism. I said to myself, 'Man, that's really good for our offense. We need big plays like that.'"
Then it hit Amukamara. Nebraska's 2010 first-team All-America cornerback didn't have a clue who was wearing his old friend's and ex-teammate's No. 10 jersey, so he caught up with the mystery man on his way back to the locker room after the scrimmage. He wanted to meet him, praise him, encourage him.
Prince Wanted to Know Who This Mystery Man Was
Imagine how Jamal Turner felt getting stopped in his tracks by an almost sure-fire first-round NFL draft choice.
"Was that you doing all that out there today in the scrimmage?" Prince asked Jamal.
"Yeh, that was me," Turner said.
"I didn't even know you played receiver," Amukamara said. "When did that happen?"
"About two weeks ago," Turner replied. "I've tried to pick up on it real quick."
"Man, you're an athlete," Prince told him. "You're really good. Keep working hard!"
"Prince gave me a lot of praise, and that made me feel good inside," Turner said. "I was so honored."
Remember, Turner, the highly recruited freshman quarterback from Arlington, Texas, just turned 18 in February, meaning that he should have been buying a corsage for his high school prom date last weekend instead of hightailing it to Lincoln last January to see if he could outbattle Taylor Martinez for Nebraska's starting quarterback job.
Arriving early was a great idea, but the timing wasn't right for anything close to a battle. Martinez, after all, is happy, healthy, hungry and, by all accounts, faster than ever. T-Magic also happens to love the unrelenting up-tempo offense that Tim Beck rolled out of his quick-thinking mind ... an offense that is designed to give Nebraska an edge to attack before, theoretically, a defense can even think about lining up to counter-attack.
Deep Down, He Knew He Had the Athleticism to Switch
Here's the truth. Even though Turner rejected scholarships from Alabama, Oklahoma, Southern Cal and nine other Division 1 schools, he had no delusions about playing as a true freshman this fall, especially at a position as complicated as quarterback and particularly when he felt like a guy drinking water out of a fire hydrant almost the minute he arrived on campus.
That can happen to a 17-year-old trying to adjust to his first semester of college, swimming in textbooks, drowning in playbooks and then looking in the mirror every day to psyche himself up about putting some serious heat on one of the most explosive quarterbacks in college football.
Sure ... right ... dream on. Great expectations are good expectations, as long as some reality is involved.
Perhaps Beck, who happened to recruit Turner and convince him to become a Cornhusker, saw the same bursts of brilliance in practice that Amakumara saw in last weekend's scrimmage.
Whatever, however, whenever, Jamal Turner was all ears when Beck suggested what All-American game organizers in Florida did -- put this 6-foot-1, 190-pound speed demon in the slot and see what he can do.
"The first time I ever played wide receiver was in that all-star game," Turner said. "My high school coach never would let me play anything but quarterback."
Let the record show that every school that recruited Turner knew how athletic he was. Alabama and USC, for instance, recruited him as a defensive back, even though he'd never played there. "I guess they thought I was athletic enough," he said, acknowledging that the same principles applied to his moving to wide receiver.
Wide Receiver Was 'Very, Very Natural' Fit for Turner
"Quarterback was difficult to pick up here, but when Coach Beck asked me if I wanted to move to wide receiver, it was very, very natural to me," Turner said. "I picked it up pretty fast. I loved playing quarterback. I really did. But this ... this is so much fun and so much easier to learn."
Amukamara believes Nebraska has an innate ability to know what position is best for certain players. Prince, after all, was the Arizona State High School Offensive Player of the Year, but because he was so fast, physical and ultra-competitive, he played defense.
Smart move, but savvy only if the athlete is willing to adjust his sails and fly just as high as he might have in another position or, like Prince, excel on the other side of the ball.
"Really," Prince said, "Jamal should have been going to the prom instead of taking on Alfonzo Dennard. Just knowing he was willing to miss out on being a teenager shows me how dedicated and how committed he is to this team, even if he is just a freshman. I think everything will work out for him. He has versatility, athleticism and determination. I think he made a smart decision to give up his quarterback dream to become a receiver."
Ask the Nebraska defender that Turner escaped from in last Saturday's scrimmage when he caught a "shoot route" pass from Brion Carnes and headed straight for the sideline. "I saw him on my shoulder and tried to avoid him," Turner said, "but he grabbed me and almost threw me down. Somehow, I managed to stay up and got maybe another 15 or 20 yards. I almost scored."
Speed kills. So does a tough resolve and a desire to prove your performance goes beyond athleticism. In a scrimmage this week, Turner put a move on a first-team linebacker and made him fall. Jamal made a couple more good moves and had what he calls a few good catches. "But I also had a couple drops," he said. "I did okay, but I can do better. I'm gaining confidence, but I have a long way to go."
He Can Catch and Run, but Blocking Hardly a Strong Suit
"I'm so glad I was willing to trade one opportunity for another and understand that I can have a role on this team," Turner said. "I'm an 'A" special package receiver and occasionally can go to the 'Y' receiver, depending on personnel. They don't want a guy like me in there when we're running the ball. They want the big wide receivers that can block."
Turner believes everything in his life is converging at the right time and for the right reasons.
"I was just thinking about all that's happened. It's really crazy," he said. "All these schools offered me the same thing, and every school sounded good. I ended up committing to Nebraska, and my recruiting coach becomes the offensive coordinator, so everything just fell into place. He has faith in me, and I have faith in him. He made sure it was my choice. When he suggested the move, I didn't have any ifs, buts or whens. I was ready."
In an ironic twist, Martinez took an immediate liking to Turner, the man who was prepared to battle him. "It's so cool," Turner said. "When we're lining up, Taylor looks me right in the eye, like he's going to be watching me. I get that from him and Cody (Green). They know I'm athletic enough to get open and catch the ball. They know I'm going to make yards after the catch and do everything I can to make them look good."
The beauty of all this is Nebraska's new offense "is real exciting and really fast," Turner said. "The idea is not to give the defense any time to know what to do. We all believe this offense can be really explosive. Obviously, we haven't put everything in, but what we have put in so far, we understand, and we can't be any more excited about it than we are."
If that makes you want to buy a ticket to the Spring Game and see Turner and newcomers just like him, please make sure you get to the Spring Game in time to see the Tunnel Walk.
He's So Excited, Teammates May Have to Help Him Out
"Oh man, I can hardly wait," Turner said. "I feed off my teammates and the crowd. When my adrenaline starts pumping, I run harder. I'm just so excited right now thinking about that Tunnel Walk, I just might ... fall out. My heart will be beating so fast, they might have to drag me to the sideline. I am going to be SO excited that words can't even explain it. I can't believe the Spring Game is next weekend. I just can't believe it."
Well, believe it because it's true, and even though the clock can't tick fast enough for the man who now wears Roy Helu's No. 10 jersey, ticketless Nebraska fans find themselves in a bit of a predicament themselves.
That's why today, the official Countdown to Big Red Saturday begins on Huskers.com.
Jamal Turner and dozens of players just like him will be christened as official Cornhuskers next Saturday at 1 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, so get good seats right here right now. While you're at it, buy some baseball tickets and watch Nebraska host Kansas State at 3 p.m. at Hawks Field. Then cap off Big Red Saturday with the rare opportunity to buy volleyball tickets as Nebraska hosts Iowa State, coached by former Husker All-American Kristy Johnson.
When Big Red Saturday ends, Nebraska coaches, players and fans hope they've seen some offensive punch to go with the team's defensive sting, so here's hoping a sunny day matches the sunshine Turner felt last week when a Husker All-American went out of his way to track him down and deliver a compliment.
One thing is certain. The guy that now wears No. 10 will come out of the tunnel with stars in his eyes and humility in his heart.
Let's just hope he doesn't trip over all the excitement that comes with it.
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