Practice imperfect, but Turner excels

October 05, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- It's a simple 5-yard route, a pass play that, for some reason, Maryland backup quarterback Chris Turner can never complete in practice.

He missed it again Wednesday and drew the wrath of Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

"He said: `Turner! I swear you could never make that throw if your life depended on it!'" Turner said, smiling. "I said, `I hit it in the game, Coach.'"

Friedgen couldn't help but laugh.

"Well," he said, "that's where it counts.'"

Indeed, the sparse amount of significant game time Turner has had at Maryland, he has made it count - something the Terps backup hasn't exactly earned a reputation for during the other six days a week. When Maryland needed him most, though - in the second quarter against then-No. 10 Rutgers last weekend after starter Jordan Steffy left the game with a slight concussion - Turner shocked many inside the program and out with his poise and decisiveness. It was a side that a select few had seen before.

"He could stand there at practice and appreciate a sunset," said Ben McEnroe, who coached Turner at Chaminade High near Los Angeles. "He's singing and playing the drums on his offensive linemen's helmets, but when it's time to go, he's ready to go and will have a fun time doing it."

With Steffy questionable heading into tomorrow's noon game against visiting Georgia Tech, the possibility of Turner's earning his first career start suddenly is a reality. It's a scenario that a month ago seemed improbable, as Turner entered the fall as the No. 3 quarterback after not taking a snap in 2006. Since then, Steffy has been injured and his backup, Josh Portis, has been declared academically ineligible for the season.

"I just have to be ready for anything," said Turner, a redshirt sophomore. "I don't know what's going to happen. I'm just trying to be prepared."

There was no time for preparation Saturday.

With 41 seconds remaining in the first half, an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit knocked Steffy to the ground and Turner into the picture. Maryland's offense looked entirely different for the next two quarters than it had in the previous four games. Friedgen, who had depended almost entirely on the running game up to that point, let loose, and Turner completed 14 of 20 passes for a career-high 149 yards. He was successful on seven of eight third-down passes and led Maryland on four second-half scoring drives en route to a 34-24 upset of Rutgers.

It was an entirely different performance from what those within the program see on a day-to-day basis from the laid-back quarterback from Simi Valley, Calif. - a player whose father, John, was the original drummer in the band Ratt and whose idea of fun is riding an all-terrain vehicle at the sand dunes of California.

"[Friedgen] said earlier in the week - when he was stuck with me - `Imagine how good you would be if you could practice well,'" Turner said with a chuckle.

This week, Friedgen said, Turner practiced "better than normal."

"I don't know if that's a good sign or a bad sign," Friedgen said with a hearty laugh. "Maybe when he starts practicing good, he plays bad. Who knows? I sure know the other's true."

Center Edwin Williams, who once lived with Turner, described him as a "hippie." Running back Keon Lattimore conceded Turner is often in "la-la land" at practice. Friedgen said Turner is sometimes "out there by Pluto." It was that relaxed persona, though, that kept everyone calm last weekend when there were numerous reasons to panic.

"In a way, he probably even has a calming effect on me," Friedgen said. "He's very rational when you talk to him: `I blew that, Coach, I understand it.' ... I do think his demeanor is probably unlike anyone that we've had here."

Friedgen's recruiting trip to California began with the intent of wooing Portis, but because Turner went to high school just a few miles away, Friedgen decided to double-dip. He wound up in a church service.

Turner attended a Catholic school, and when Friedgen walked into the gym, he also stepped into Mass.

"He got right into the service," McEnroe said. "It seemed like he was right at home."

Friedgen wound up luring Turner to College Park, where he is majoring in government and politics - a significant reason he chose Maryland because of its proximity to Washington. Even before he arrived, though, Turner began studying the playbook with McEnroe in his office.

"Part of him was like a kid in a candy shop - `Oh, look, I got my playbook!'" McEnroe said. "Then we started looking at it and it was like, `Oh, gosh ... I got my playbook.' The seriousness of the situation and the fact `I'm a Division I quarterback now.' ... We talked about being a student of the game and how he needed to treat that just like any other class.

"He's a good student and sharp kid," McEnroe said. "That's what put him in a position to be successful the other night. He takes it very seriously what he's doing."

Quarterbacks coach John Donovan agreed.

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