Jerry Turner has worn a lot of different uniforms in his football career, but he never dreamed he’d don Spokane Shock blue and orange.
His goal at a couple of his arenafootball2 stops was always to knock off Spokane. He succeeded on occasion, but it was a missed opportunity that, ironically, is one of the main reasons he now plays for the Shock.
Bakersfield was in Spokane for a 2006 playoff game. The teams had split during the regular season and Bakersfield, led by Turner and fellow defensive end Ben McCombs, was ahead 47-43 when Shock quarterback Kyle Rowley zipped a touchdown pass to Charles Frederick with 2 seconds left.
“Had I made that sack, that first ring (in Spokane’s inaugural season) could have been mine,” Turner said. “Kyle stepped up and threw a touchdown pass. Game over.”
Spokane went on to win the ArenaCup. Turner, like McCombs, bounced around, playing some in the AFL before returning to af2. Turner went to Arkansas last season and the Twisters lost in the playoffs. McCombs came to Spokane, which won another title.
After years of falling short of winning a championship, Turner determined Spokane, which joined the reconstructed AFL this season, was his best opportunity to earn a ring.
“That’s exactly the reason I’m here,” he said. “I told myself I would never wear blue and orange, but they win out here and you want to put yourself in the best position as a player and for your family. This is one of the best places to go for an arena player.”
Turner’s career arc virtually mirrors McCombs’. Both were af2 lineman of the year (Turner in 2006, McCombs in 2009). Both made af2’s all-time top 10 defensive linemen (Turner No. 5, McCombs No. 7). McCombs ranked No. 1 in af2 career sacks; Turner No. 2. Both made life miserable for Spokane quarterbacks, drawing the ire and respect of Shock fans.
“We’ve lived the same type of life, following this dream of football,” said McCombs, who is sidelined by a knee injury as Spokane prepares to entertain Arizona in the first round of the AFL playoffs Friday. “He called me up (during the offseason) and asked me about playing in Spokane. We’d talked about it before. He told me he liked the program up here.”
Turner, 32, knew a lot about the Shock and their roster. He was teammates with Rowley, defensive back Travis Williams and linebacker Aaron Robbins in Arkansas, where he was coached by Shock line coach Travis Crusenberry. He played with offensive lineman Ed Ta’amu for AFL Kansas City.
Turner talked with Jacksonville, Bossier/Shreveport, Oklahoma City and Tulsa before choosing Spokane.
“I wanted to go somewhere I was comfortable with the coaching staff,” said Turner, mentioning Crusenberry’s presence.
Turner’s decision to join the Shock left Rowley feeling a little more comfortable.
“I remember game-planning more for him than we game-planned for any defensive lineman before,” Rowley said of the preparations for the ’06 playoff game. “That kind of worried me. We are actually changing our formations for a defensive lineman. I remember him bringing it that game. Close game, we won in the last five seconds.”
Not that Turner can, or will be allowed, to forget.
“That’s all they do,” he said, when asked if anybody reminds him of the outcome.
But Turner gives teammates and coaches plenty of other topics to discuss. In the offseason, he spends time with his 4-year-old daughter in Tennessee and manages a Papa John’s store. On the field, he is a pass-rushing force who on rare occasions has lined up at Mac linebacker. Turner, despite being a little banged up late in the regular season, still leads the Shock with five sacks and is tied with Robbins with five forced fumbles.
Spokane ranks third in yards allowed (273.1 per game), fourth in points (52.7) and tied for fourth in sacks (21).
“Jerry knows the ins and outs of the game,” defensive coordinator Alex Sirianni said. “Although he’s at the 5-6 sack range, teams have to prepare for him and know where he’s at on the field. He gives us consistent pressure. I think he wanted to get to a place where there was a winning tradition and winning attitude.”
Affirmative, Turner said.
“In the IFL I made it to the game before the championship,” he said. “In arena2 we went to the second round. In the AFL I never got out of the first round. I want to go all the way.
“Of course there was a time I wanted to go to the NFL, but as far as right now, I’m looking for a ring. I’ve played all over the country, done my job well, always been the man as far as pass-rushers. A ring would solidify all of that.”