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May 6, 2003
TURNER THE BURNER UPDATE: NIU TAILBACK OPTS TO PLAY IN EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME NEXT JANUARY
DeKALB, IL --- Hes hot. Yes, Northern Illinois University senior-to-be All-America tailback candidate Michael Turner certainly is red-hot. After all, he is The Burner and one of the early commitments to play in the 79th Annual East-West Shrine Football Classic nine months from now at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco.
Turner---one of the first eight-to-10 performers who have opted to perform in the East-West contest on January 10, 2004---faxed in his paperwork last Friday (May 2) and confirmed his participation with the games executive director Jack Hart on Monday (May 5). The Burner enters the 2003 season as the nations top returning major-college rusher.
Michael Turner comes to us highly recommended, Hart said. We delighted to have him in our all-star game. Our objective is to have the best players in the country in our game and, obviously, he is one of the better ones, no doubt.
The six-foot, 223-pound Turner (North Chicago) ran for a Mid-American Conference single-season record 1,915 yards last season, made five All-America teams, and finished as a semifinalist for the prestigious Doak Walker National Runningback Award last fall. His 1,915 ground yards represented the 13th best single-season in NCAA Division 1-A history.
This means that Michael is considered one of the top runningbacks in the country, said Huskie head coach Joe Novak. Its a great honor for Michael and our program. Its a showcase for both him and our football program. Last year, Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich was picked this early for one of these all-star games. These post-season games are very competitive and try to get the best players the earliest they can. Its exciting for us.
Turner becomes the first Northern Illinois performer selected to participate in the East-West Shrine Classic and the schools first post-season pick since wide receiver Darrell Hill (Tyco Gridiron Classic in 2002), linebacker Cameron Saulsby (Tyco Gridiron Classic in 2001), and offensive tackle Ryan Diem (Senior Bowl in 2001). NIUs unanimous First-Team All-America tailback LeShon Johnson played in the 1994 Senior Bowl after leading the nation in rushing (1,976 yards in 1993).
For me, its a good sign to get invited so early (April), Turner said. Its really great recognition for our program and my teammates. I guess people have high expectations for me and now I have to go out and perform at that level. Its a great honor. All of us are looking towards this season and competing for the MAC Championship.
During the 2002 season, Turner wound up No. 2 in NCAA 1-A rushing, No. 2 in 1-A all-purpose yardage (2,284), No. 2 in NCAA carries (338), No. 7 in 1-A touchdowns (20), and No. 8 in NCAA scoring (120 points). The Burner was the only major-college runner with five 200-yard or better outings and with two five-TD rushing games last season. He was also the countrys initial 1,000-yard Division 1-A rusher---reaching that milestone in his seventh game in 2002.
Named runner-up to Leftwich for MAC Offensive Player of the Year and the Mid-Am Vern Smith Award, Turner was a First-Team All-MAC selection, plus made Second-Team Football Digest All-America, Third-Team The Sporting News All-America, Third-Team Collegefootballnews.com All-America, Pro Football Weekly All-America, and Honorable Mention CNN-Sports Illustrated All-America. At the conclusion of this winters off-season conditioning program, Turner finished with a :04.41 timing in the 40.
Turner already holds nine Northern Illinois records and needs 453 more ground yards to break the schools career mark set by All-Century fullback and 1973 NCAA Division 1-A rushing champ Mark Kellar (3,745 yards in 1971-73). Against Top 25 opposition last season, The Burner ran for 160 yards vs. No. 22-ranked Wisconsin and 192 vs. No. 20 Bowling Green State. Turner also returned a kickoff for a 93-yard touchdown vs. Wake Forest last August.
Novak and Company will have several opportunities for national exposure this season with Huskie Stadium dates against Maryland (August 28) and Iowa State (September 27), plus a road date at Alabama (September 20).