Mixing football, family, charity Eric Turner: The Ravens' veteran safety sets the tone and makes a difference as a team leader on the field and a role model off it.

August 30, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Eric Turner's world is not Hollywood.

Beneath the exterior of this man nicknamed "E-rock," who rides around in an evergreen Mercedes convertible wearing dark shades, designer suits and a watch always set on Pacific time, is a reborn Christian who is serious about his profession and devoted to his son.

Turner was a history major, and has considered becoming an attorney. He spends a great deal of his free time volunteering in the United Way and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

"Because of his outgoing personality on the field and where he is from [Ventura, Calif.], there is a certain mystique about him," said Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett. "But if you get to know Eric, he is a deeply religious guy that kids can look up to."

Turner, 27, has become a big hit in Baltimore. Take a look around. Sales of the free safety's jersey might be second only to those of quarterback Vinny Testaverde's.

But make no mistake, Turner is probably the best player on the Ravens. When it comes to leadership, intensity and ability, Turner is unmatched. Here's proof: Turner has been involved in 28 turnovers during the 63 games he has played in his five-year career and has averaged 9.6 tackles a game.

When Turner was in the lineup for all 16 games in 1994, the defense gave up the fewest points in the league with 204, a team record. When Turner suffered a fracture in his back in Game 8 last year, forcing him to miss the second half of the season, the team allowed 216 points in the remaining games, compared with 156 for the first eight.

"Eric has great size and presence," said Michael Lombardi, the ++ team's former player personnel director. "When he went down, we lost a lot of leadership from a production standpoint. This is a guy who can do it all."

He is big enough (6 feet 1, 207 pounds) to stuff the run and fast enough to play in a two-deep zone to help cover the pass. His leadership starts in practice.

During the first two minutes of the first team contact drill of training camp, Turner crushed tight end Harold Bishop on a pass attempt over the middle.

And then Turner talked trash. He usually does in practice. Or while bowling or playing dominoes. He is the guy who always walks with his helmet on backward in practice.

"That was my way of raising the competition level and raising the stakes around here," said Turner. "I wanted to set the tone and tempo in camp early, let the young guys know they needed to tighten up."

Some people confuse Turner's confidence with cockiness. Combined with the nice clothes, fancy car, big paycheck and good looks, they get an image that isn't Turner.

"I can't help how people perceive me," said Turner. "Some things are done differently in California, just like some things are done differently on the East Coast. But I'm not the type of person to talk about my personal life, and I try not to judge others. I just try to use my God-given abilities to the utmost, because they are a blessing."

Turner was born in Ventura, the son of a minister, Willie Turner, and Joan Mathis Bailey. By the time Eric Turner was 4, his father had left the family of four.

Bailey worked hard as an accounting clerk to raise her three sons. When Turner was 14, his mother married Mark Bailey.

The two left an impression on Turner. When Turner received his $3.15 million signing bonus from the Browns in 1992, Turner brought his mother a beautiful home in Camarillo, Calif.

"My mother has always been there for us. She is the rock, our foundation," said Turner. "I was impressed with my stepfather, how much and the way he loved my mother. The way he also accepted us as his own. He showed us [him and his two brothers] how to be men and treated us like men."

Turner apparently hasn't forgotten. He is unmarried and has a 5-year-old son, Eric Jr., who lives in California. Turner calls his son every day. They spend the entire off-season together, and he occasionally flies his son to games.

"That's my heart," said Turner. "I made a promise to myself that I never wanted to have a child without being married, because I grew up in a household without a father there.

"But I made the mistake and had a child out of wedlock," he added. "I live with it. My mother has told me that I've been a better father than some fathers that live in the same household. That's real nice to hear."

Turner's contributions to charities, both monetary and in time, are endless. He'll be featured in a United Way commercial this season. He is a big part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Last May, Turner delivered two $1,450 scholarships to his alma mater, Ventura High. One was for the most improved student and the other to a student who exemplified strong leadership qualities.

"I wanted to recognize the student who maybe didn't have a 4.0 or 3.9 grade-point average, but still made great improvement or great strides," said Turner. "I wanted to do something a little different.

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