Special Thanksgiving Story by Keno Sultan 11/25/05
MASSILLON—He can be seen breaking tackles and changing direction at times during his playing career at Lorin Andrews Middle School. He can be seen going the distance for a long touchdown run. He also has dunked a basketball in a middle school game.
One year later, as a standout running back, this talented phenom has wowed crowds with his long touchdown runs on a Massillon Tigers freshman team that completed a 7-1-1 season.
He has been a hot commodity since he began playing football and is looked up to in school wherever he goes. But one thing is for sure; the accolades do not get to the head of this 6’2’’, 175-pound force.
He led the team in touchdowns scored with 17 on the season. The future of the Massillon Tiger backfield looks to be in great shape with Justin Turner following in the footsteps of Brian Gamble, Lanale Robinson, and K.J. Herring.
I sat down with him and his entire family to spend a Thanksgiving Day with the talented product who is currently getting prepared for basketball season as well. A special thanks is in order for the entire Turner family and relatives for making this story possible.
Justin Gregory Turner was born into the city of Massillon, Ohio as the son of Tonja and Paul Turner on September 4, 1990 and the brother of current Massillon senior Brittny Turner in a God-fearing Christian household. Like any other athlete born into this tradition-rich city, he too had his aspirations of playing football for the Tigers. Boys take part in midget league football clubs and continue their aspirations on to the junior high to the high school level.
“I have been playing since the second grade but in the fourth grade was my first year of tackling,” he said. “God has blessed me with a lot of talent and I’m going to use it to my best ability.”
His mother, Tonja is a strict disciplinarian who was aware that he was going to play football for the Tigers. The biggest objective she stresses more than anything to her son is academic success first. Many players at this level are known at times to develop an ego but she will not allow Justin to lose track of the big picture in sight.
“Grades is a number one priority and he must maintain a certain grade point average in the classroom. If he does not, there will be a problem,” she said. “If he does not meet standards, he will lose some privileges such as no Playstation. Grades are #1.”
“Right now, he has maintained a 3.0 average. When we went to parent-teacher conferences, his teachers all had good praise for him.”
Turner currently has three more years of football left. During those three years, his mission is to succeed in the classroom and then play college football to further his career.“I hope to get into a good college and succeed in life. I also want to try and win the Heisman and conference player of the year,” he said. “If football doesn’t work for me, I do want to go into construction and own a business or even coach football.”
When asked how she would react in four years when the name “Justin Gregory Turner” was read at commencement for him to get his diploma, Tonja Turner said, “After that, just let God guide him the way to success.”
Turner participated in the last middle school game between city rivals Longfellow and Lorin Andrews. He scored three touchdowns to lead the Dragons to a decisive 42-0 win over the Poets. He might have had four had not a long punt return been called back on a clipping penalty. He truly did not miss a beat as he jumped into the high school scene.
He may also be a standout basketball player for the Tigers in the near future. In a middle school playoff game, Turner had the biggest accomplishment not too many people can cherish. He scored a one-handed dunk that secured a championship for the Dragons in the eighth-grade title contest.
“I didn’t think I would get it at first but when I dunked it, I was happy,” he said with a smile. “It was the final seconds, so I had to hustle and get the ball to dunk it. I felt like (Houston Rockets forward) Tracy McGrady.
Basketball and football are not his two dominant sports as well. He has shown dominant flashes in track also as he won titles in the high jump, 100 meter, and 200 meter dash events.
In his room are numerous trophies of his accomplishments garnered in his sports contests.
Brittny has also won her share of awards as well. One may get the perception that Tonja Turner wants her children to win at all costs. Not necessarily. “I always tell my children someone wins and someone loses. Defeat to me is not losing, it is a building block at what you have to do to be better,” she said. “You look at the Tigers week 10 loss to Canton McKinley. They learned from that loss and it made them better as a team.”
Family members and supporters in his corner:
Turner is aware of the pressures of being the hot commodity on the team and in the public. At times during this season he has been accused of being a player who was at times termed as one who was cocky, brash, and arrogant based on his successes. He has even been misperceived at times as a player who did not care about anyone on the team but himself.
The claims made by individuals outside the program were enough to upset most of the family members in his life. They feel that the people who are making the claims about him should have the strong will to come out and express themselves instead of remaining in secrecy.
Ed Bryant, one of two uncles related to the Massillon standout did not take the criticism directed towards Justin well. And he was not alone.
“Justin once got some birthday money and you know what he did?” he asked. “He used it to buy ice cream for some children. Do you call that cocky?” It’s easy to judge a person and you won’t know them until you meet them in person and see how they really are.”
“I was livid to hear the comments as you can only allow your child to hear so much,” Tonja Turner said. “Had I known the people who were making the comments, I would have taken a stand. You have to protect your children. The person who is able to talk the talk should also be willing to walk the walk.”
Brittny Turner, the older sister of Justin Turner at times has tended to be bothered by the outside criticism directed towards him. “It bothers me because he is my brother,” she said.
“I am not a cocky person, all you have to do is go back to what my mother said,” Justin Turner said. “I’m thankful for God blessing me with two good parents as they have taught me to respect others the way you want to be respected.”
His family has always been enthusiastic of his accomplishments. They have always been a strong rock in his corner from the first day he played football to where he is right now. They are the ones who intend to be in the corner for him on the field and off the field.
Watching him play has given O’Nice Bryant a good reason to be thankful for watching his grandson execute his successes.
“I have followed Justin since he has been playing midget league football to junior high to the high school level,” he said. “We have watched him play and for that I’m thankful. I am also thankful for my family having health and being able to say thanks.”
“He has always been a team player. He is not the person to use ‘I’,” family member Gaynell Lewis said. “He doesn’t show off. He plays the game with conviction and wisdom. God is the leader of everything and he has made Justin successful.”
Beginning high school as a freshman can usually be a problem. Even Justin has gone through his times of being lost at key locations inside Massillon Washington. But with a sister at his side, the transition has become easier for the Massillon freshman to manage.
Since making his ways down the hall of the campus, he hasn’t encountered any problems at all.
“Brittny has been a big help to him. She was there for him all the time when he was lost,” Tonja Turner said. “She has also shown him the ropes as well.”
Martha Bryant, the grandmother of Justin Turner is quick to point out that everyone talks to him all the time to make sure he does not lose sight of the big picture.
“We talk to him all the time about his future,” she said. “We are all a close knit family and that will never change.”
Dinner at the table
With all the food at the table and two days off of school, most people might be happy enough. But with the invocation delivered at the table, it was a mark of being thankful for past, present, and future accomplishments to come.
“I pray for God to keep blessing us and keeping us together as a family,” Justin Turner said.
“We are very thankful because tomorrow is never a guarantee,” O’Nice Bryant said. “Be thankful that you are alive everyday.”
With the traditional food at the table and the family savoring a day of thanks, Justin is aware of the importance of this day.
“Our family history allows us to be together. We all have a good time and tell jokes every now and then,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this for five years since I have been here,” Tonja Turner said. “That’s impressive. It’s happy to know that we all love each other.”
Despite being perceived as the person most people take him to be, Justin Turner was quick to offer advice to any eighth-grader at Massillon Middle School that has plans on playing freshman football for the Tigers.
“You have to work hard on the field and in the classroom so you will not miss any games,” he said. “Work hard to go to the next level. If you can be successful in both, you can be like me.”
He can be seen breaking tackles and making long runs for touchdowns. People might want to get used to this for the next three years Justin Turner is a Massillon Tiger.
*Special thanks are in order to the Turners, the Bryants, other family relatives that were unable to make the trip and family friend Eric Stephens for allowing me to spend a special Thanksgiving Day with them. This could not be possible without their devout generosity and faith.