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The tragic saga of Calvin Turner

I remember Calvin Turner. Not as a former WVU football captain. Not as a former all-USFL football player.

I remember him as a classmate - a high school classmate.

I even remember a few of Turner's words. And they came flooding back this week when I heard of Turner's death, at the age of 52, in London, Ohio.

As you would expect, Turner was a BMOC at Fairmont Senior High. Emphasis on the B - for big. He wore an Afro hairstyle that made one wonder how he could possibly stuff it in a helmet.

Anyway, Turner, let's just say, had "help" with some of his homework. All of us, including the speech teacher, knew Turner's girlfriend was doing most of it. So one time the teacher told Turner he wanted to see the standout athlete's own work. He waved his arm at the class and said we all did.

The next day, Turner hit class. A shy man by nature, he took the challenge. He stood up and read a speech using words I won't forget. Not because they were necessarily original. Not because they were necessarily beautiful. But because they were Calvin's.

"When I'm with her," Turner said during the speech, "I feel feelings that I've never felt before."

When he finished, the rest of the class rose in unison and clapped enthusiastically. He had composed his own speech. He had accepted the challenge. He stood out.

Turner stood out in school because of his size. He certainly stood out on a football field. Understand, though, the story of Calvin Turner doesn't have a happy ending.

WVU fans might remember Turner. He was a co-captain, along with current Mountaineer athletic director Oliver Luck, back in 1981. Darryl Talley was also on that team as a junior. The trio helped lead WVU to that year's Peach Bowl victory. It was a victory that pushed the program and coach Don Nehlen's career to much bigger and better things.

At Fairmont Senior, Turner was part of a tremendous Polar Bear team. Coach Bob DeLorenzo had Turner on defense and at tight end (the opposition's nightmare was to see Turner catching the ball and running not around, but at them); Reggie Armstead, another future WVU starter, at tailback and defensive back; and Randy Jones, a future NAIA first-team All-America selection, on the lines.

At WVU, Turner played linebacker and then defensive end. He had 59 tackles in 1980, his best season as a Mountaineer.

Turner bounced around afterward, looking for a home playing professional football. He was cut by the Denver Broncos, but signed with the Denver Gold of the USFL for three seasons.

I remember watching Turner during one of those seasons. The man chased down a tailback on a dead run. I kid you not. Sporting News named him all-USFL at defensive end in 1983. He had a franchise record 27.5 sacks in his three seasons.

Turner did appear in the NFL for three games. He played for Tampa Bay for three games during the 1987 strike as a replacement player and had three sacks in his final game.

That was 25 years ago though.

Somehow, some way, Turner's story turned sour. And then it turned tragic.

See, my former classmate, that formerly shy, yet athletically gifted, athlete died in prison this past Monday.

Mike Davis, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, confirmed Turner, 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, was at the Madison Correctional Institution in London, Ohio, and pronounced dead at the Madison County Hospital.

"It was apparently of natural causes," Davis said. "But the actual cause is pending an autopsy report from the Montgomery County coroner's office in Dayton."

Turner was admitted to the prison on May 21, 2009, after being convicted of gross sexual imposition and sexual battery. He was expected to be released on Nov. 25.

Toward the end, Turner had reached out to some of his former teammates. Steve Smith, the quarterback of that Polar Bear team and, later, the Charleston Rockets, said he "hoped to help rehabilitate" Turner upon his release.

"It's completely devastating," Smith said. "Calvin didn't smoke or drink - nothing. Then he ends up in jail. He was supposed to get out in November. Then he had a brain aneurysm. He was supposed to get up for breakfast..."

Then it all ended.

The saga - the promising, sour, then tragic saga - of Calvin Turner.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/mitchvingle.


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