Through faith and football, Michael Turner not only stayed on course, but perhaps more importantly, learned something about himself along the way.
Turner was a highly-touted two-sport athlete even before he enrolled at Alvarez High as a freshman in 2009. The pressure was on right from the start. And he seemed more than ready for the challenge.
He quarterbacked the freshman football team to a 9-1 record, giving hope that better days were right around the corner for a perpetually struggling program.
He not only made the varsity basketball team as a freshman, but the first game he played came against bitter rival Alisal in the Alisal gym. All he was asked to do was to defend Alisal’s dominating center, Jonathon Sosa, who would eventually became The Salinas Californian’s Player of the Year.
“I may have looked calm, but when coach called my name my heart started pounding,” Turner said of his first exposure to varsity competition. “There had been so much hype. And to guard Sosa, it was so hard.”
But Turner did what would become a natural routine, and may have been why survived a stormy junior year to become the Salinas Californian’s 2012 prep football Offensive Player of the Year in Monterey County.
“When the whistle blew I had tunnel vision,” he said. “When the game starts everything else goes away.”
Little did Turner know back then how vital his game-time ritual would become.
His high school career that began with so much hype, so much hope, eventually turned into so much discontent.
“I never thought it would end up like this,” Turner said.
Turner overcame personal and family issues — the transfer to another school after a tumultuous and highly-publicized incident in September of 2011 involving his dad, a football game, expulsion, threats, courts and lawyers and a constant media bombardment that eventually caused the family to pack up and move to Seaside last summer. The change caused Michael to transfer from Alvarez High in Salinas to Seaside High for his senior season.
A condition of the judicial system’s ruling once everything from that September 2011 football game was played out in a Salinas courtroom may have been the toughest part of it all: Michael Turner’s father was not allowed to attend any of his football games.
As a result, dad didn’t see Michael throw for more than 2,000 yards this past season, didn’t see any of the 23 touchdown passes (11 of those touchdowns went to his younger brother Ronnie), didn’t see him avoid the rush by scrambling for a team-high 452 yards and five touchdowns, didn’t see him deliver the clutch plays that handed Palma only its second loss to a Monterey County team since 1988 and didn’t see him lead the Seaside High football team to its first unbeaten regular season in 30 years.
Watching Turner shred one defense after another on the football field you’d never know his life had been turned upside down.
“I made up my mind it was going to take more than that to knock me down,” Turner said. “I had family and God on my side. I had something to prove to myself.”
It was a remarkable season in more ways than one for someone who thought for a moment his high school football career was going to end just as it was beginning to blossom.
“When I was a freshman our Alvarez team went 9-1,” Turner said. “My sophomore year (on varsity) we lost to Alisal on the last game of the season and missed the playoffs. My junior year started with the Milpitas game being postponed (it was later ruled a forfeit by Alvarez). The next game we beat Monterey, and then things just sort of happened.”
Three games into his junior season and Turner feared his prep football career may be over following a post-game incident that ultimately ended up in a courtroom.
“I remember thinking, this can’t be the end of me,” Turner said.
He was dropped from the football team and nearly expelled from school. After a few days of uncertainty Turner was admitted back to Alvarez and allowed to be part of the basketball team.
A new beginning
But the damage had been done, and rumors were running wild. In need of a fresh start, the Turner family moved to Seaside. Michael and his wide receiver brother, Ronnie, enrolled at Seaside High and life appeared back to normal.
Except for one thing — Michael’s father was not allowed to attend any of his games at Seaside High either. But the family home was close enough to school that his dad had a good idea what was going on judging by the noise of the crowd.
“He’d go out front and sit and listen to the crowd,” Michael said. “He could tell the difference between which crowd is which (home or visitor).”
The cheering echoing up from the Seaside football stadium was nearly non-stop. The Spartans won all five regular-season home games as well as their first playoff contest before the season came to an end in the Central Coast Section Division IV semifinals.
The 6-5, 195-pound Turner proved to be a good fit for Seaside High football, but more importantly, Seaside turned out to be a good match for Michael.
Every summer, Seaside coach Al Avila takes his team to a Christian camp in the Kings Canyon mountains near the Fresno area. The first night there when the campfire is blazing each player is asked to speak his mind.
“It’s so powerful that some of the camp counselors attend,” Avila said. “When it’s over there’s not a dry eye anywhere. It’s about leadership and prayer.”
Said Michael Turner: “It’s a time when you can talk about your problems. For me, my junior year was not a great year. My dad was away, and I had trust issues. I had a hard time trusting anyone. But that changed after the camp. Coach Avila makes it like a family. He makes you a better man. He’s changed a lot of kids.”
Michael Turner should know. He was one of them.
Here is the rest of our All-County offense.
Connor Marden, Carmel, sophomore — The Padre quarterback assembly line cranked out yet another top-notch prospect this year, and just like those who came before him — Devin Pearson and Kenny Johnston — Marden put up spectacular numbers, led his team to a league title and earned his All-County merit badge.
Including Carmel’s one playoff game, Marden passed for more than 2,300 yards and 31 touchdowns. He also rushed for 504 yards and six more scores and was selected the MTAL’s Back of the Year. He was also named Prep2Prep.
com‘s CCS Sophomore of the Year.
* RB: Holden Smith, Carmel, junior — An All-County repeater who rushed for more than 1,200 yards as a sophomore and scored 26 touchdowns during the regular season, then scored six more times during Carmel’s run to the D-IV championship game in 2011, Smith picked up where he left off. He rushed for nearly 1,600 yards this year go to along with 21 touchdowns.
Smith was chosen Offensive Player of the Year in the MTAL.
* RB: Everett Ball, Salinas, senior — Ball became the first Salinas High running back to lead the league in rushing since Jon Grim in 1983. He averaged nearly 9 yards per carry during the regular season, with a 10-game total of 1,217 yards and 16 touchdowns. In a first-round playoff game against Fremont of Sunnyvale he ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. He was named Offensive MVP of the MBL Gabilan Division.
* RB: Brandon Olivares, Palma, junior — Olivares might have been the most improved running back in the county from the start to finish of the season. He rushed for 280 yards in the first five games of the regular season, and 757 yards in the next five to finish with 1,037 and 14 touchdowns — the second highest touchdown total in the league.
* RB: Ambrose Chioino, Monterey, senior — The hard-charging Chioino was part of a thundering herd of running backs for the Toreadores. He led the group with 972 yards — the second year in a row he went over the 900-yard mark. He scored seven touchdowns and averaged 7.5 yards per carry.
Chioino is a two-time first-team all-league running back.
* WR: Ronnie Turner, Seaside, junior — It was the ultimate brother act at Seaside High where the 6-5 Michael Turner tossed one touchdown pass after another to his big-play 6-4 brother, Ronnie Turner. The younger Turner snared 31 passes for 644 yards and 11 touchdowns in the 10-game regular season. He averaged a county best 20.7 yards per catch among receivers with 20 or more receptions.
* WR: Joseph Jakubowsky, Seaside, senior — Has there ever been a tougher, more durable and versatile 5-8, 165-pound football player from this area than Jakubowsky? You name it, he did it, and usually in spectacular style. He caught 45 passes for 730 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore. Was moved to quarterback as a junior and passed for 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns while running for 370 yards and three more scores. He was switched back to receiver this year and led the team with 37 catches for 563 yards and four touchdowns. Oh yeah, he quarterbacked against Watsonville and all he did was complete 11 of 13 passes for 168 yards and four touchdowns while running 11 times for 73 yards and one touchdown.
He was named co-MVP of the MBL Pacific Division.
* WR: Thomas Spanos, Carmel, junior — The speedy and spunky Spanos was one of those do-it-all type of players for the Padres.
He returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, had 11 scoring receptions in the regular season and seven were from 20 yards away or more, rushed for three touchdowns and completed seven of 11 passes for 61 yards. He averaged nearly 20 yards per catch.
* OL: Blake Flores, Monterey, senior — The 5-11, 210 pound guard was a three-year starter on a team that lived and died by its running game. Mostly they thrived. The Toreadores won eight or more games each of Flores’ three seasons.
“We relied on our pulling guard a lot,” Monterey coach Tom Newton said. “Blake had great leverage and knew how to get on people fast.”
He helped Monterey running backs rush for more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2012.
* OL: Spencer, Seeley, Palma, senior: On third-and-short, the guy you probably want to run behind is a 6-foot-4, 285 pounder. Seeley is the direction Palma running backs were usually headed.
“Anytime we had short yardage situations, we’d run left because of him (Seeley),” Palma coach Jeff Carnazzo said. “He had a lot of experience and has a lot of leadership skills.”
A three-year varsity starter, Seeley was a first-team all-MBL Gabilan Division selection and helped pave the way for 28 Palma rushing touchdowns.
* OL: Anthony Balesteri, Salinas, senior — The 6-2, 235 pound two-year starter was called by Cowboys coach Steve Goodbody as one of the leaders of an offensive line that blew open the gap for nearly 2,500 rushing yards.
“He made the line calls” Goodbody said. “He did a great job and showed a lot of leadership.”
* OL: Gino Pazzagilia, Carmel, senior: All those points (533) and yards (more than 4,000) didn’t get there without a little help. And much of it came courtesy of Pazzagilia, the only returning offensive lineman this past season for the Padres. He started in all 13 games last year as well.
“He was our anchor on the line,” Carmel coach Golden Anderson said.
* Utility: Kevin Teskey, Pacific Grove, senior — The 6-0, 180-pounder led the Breaker resurgence back to the playoffs by rushing for more than 1,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.
He also had three touchdown catches and a kick return. He is 23 regular-season touchdown total touchdowns was a Monterey County high.