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Xavier Turner’s journey to the edge of Seahawks’ roster: 9,064 miles, 4 teams, 3 tryouts, 1 NFL debut

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 10, 2019

Seahawks running back Xavier Turner take the handoff from Paxton Lynch and presses upfield during a preseason football game against Denver on Thursday  at CenturyLink Field. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Seahawks running back Xavier Turner take the handoff from Paxton Lynch and presses upfield during a preseason football game against Denver on Thursday at CenturyLink Field. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
By Adam Jude Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The guy who wound up leading the Seahawks in rushing during Thursday’s first preseason game knew almost nothing about his new team, nothing about Seattle and nearly none of the plays he was asked to run against Denver.

“How many plays did I know?” Xavier Turner said, repeating a question inside the Seahawks’ locker room after the game. “I knew a good four.”

Turner turned those four plays into a productive NFL debut, rushing for 42 yards on a game-high 13 carries, plus one reception for 8 yards, in the Seahawks’ 22-14 victory versus the Broncos at CenturyLink Field.

The Seahawks knew nearly nothing about the rookie running back before they signed him Wednesday afternoon, 28 hours before Thursday’s kickoff.

They barely knew his name.

Because he was such a last-minute signing, Turner wasn’t listed on the game roster handed out in the press box. Turner wore No. 41 for the Seahawks. For his first handful of touches the play-by-play press box announcer referred to him as “Marwin Evans,” the Seahawks safety who also wears 41 (hey, it’s preseason for everybody).

None of that mattered to Turner, who was as pleasantly surprised as anyone with his extensive workload in the second half.

“I did not expect that,” he said. “They just told me to be ready. I got my head in the playbook, and I was ready and there to support these guys.”

Turner experienced all the gloom and all the glory of life on the edge of an NFL roster over the past week.

The five-day adventure that preceded his arrival in Seattle had more twists and turns than he’s accustomed to. A 5-foot-10, 226-pound power back, Turner was known more as a straight-line, between-the-tackles runner at Division II Tarleton State in Stephenville, Texas.

Turner signed with the Arizona Cardinals in the spring as an undrafted free agent. The Cardinals released him Aug. 2, setting in motion an exhausting four-city, 9,064-mile detour before landing his next NFL opportunity.

After leaving Arizona, Turner returned home to Austin, Texas, for one day. From there, he went to Cleveland for a tryout with the Browns at the beginning of the week.

While in Cleveland, he got a call from the Packers, so he bounced up to Green Bay for a tryout.

As he was getting ready to board a plane in Green Bay to head back home to Texas, guess who called?

“Hey, can you come work out for us in Seattle?” he was asked.

“Well, I’m in the terminal in Green Bay, and my bags are on the plane, but if you guys can book me a ticket in the morning, I’ll be there,” he said.

So he took his flight to Austin, arriving home around 12:30 a.m. Central Time on Wednesday, slept for a few hours, got up and left home at 4:30 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. flight to Seattle.

He landed around 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time Wednesday, and worked out for the Seahawks in Renton around noon.

After the workout, “They asked me, ‘Hey, can you go (play) tomorrow?’ ” Turner recalled. “I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So I went to equipment, got fitted (for his Seahawks uniform) and got the playbook and got at it.”

Turner’s commitment doesn’t surprise Tarleton State offensive coordinator Jonathan Beasley.

“He wants it; that’s the number one thing,” Beasley said. “He loves football. He eats it, sleeps it and breathes it. Those are hard intangibles to find.”

At Birdville High in North Richland Hills, Texas, Turner rushed for 2,987 yards and 55 touchdowns as a senior, and had reportedly made an oral commitment to play for Oklahoma. But he didn’t qualify academically, and began his college career at a junior college, Navarro College, in Corsicana, Texas.

As a senior at Tarleton last fall, he sustained a concussion in the season opener and missed some time. He still wound up leading the team with 1,469 yards and 22 TDs, helping Tarleton to an undefeated regular season and a league title.

Beasley said he stayed up late watching Turner play for the Seahawks in the fourth quarter Thursday night.

“He’s a great kid,” Beasley said. “He works hard and deserves everything he gets.”

Turner is hoping he gets a few more chances this preseason with the Seahawks. That’s not unrealistic, even for a guy who signed as essentially the 90th man on a 90-man roster.

Chris Carson was one of a dozen Seahawks starters who was held out of the first preseason game, and No. 2 back Rashaad Penny had all six of his carries in the first half. Bo Scarbrough exited the game in the second half with a bruised hand, and with C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic and Travis Homer all nursing minor injuries, the Seahawks only had Turner left to turn to in the backfield.

“It’s definitely been worth it,” Turner said of his whirlwind week. “As a kid, you always dream about this moment, and to actually fulfill this moment, it’s a blessing. I’m just embracing the night, embracing these guys and looking forward to what tomorrow brings.”

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