BOISE, Idaho — Some days, he had nothing to eat. Others, he didn’t have a bed to sleep in. But Antoine Turner has found a way to break through those hurdles like he does an opposing offensive line.
The 6-foot-1, 290-pound Turner’s story was brought to national attention in May, his bouts of homelessness at Fullerton (Calif.
) College known to football fans across the country. In mid-May, the NCAA granted a waiver for Boise State to provide immediate assistance to Turner as he awaited his transfer to Boise State in early June.
Turner has been amazed at the reaction of those who heard of his perseverance.
“I felt loved,” Turner said. “I didn’t really ask anybody for help — it brought the human factor. People were actually human, they cared about somebody they didn’t even know. That was surprising to me, and it changed my outlook on a lot of things. … it opened up my heart a lot more to other things maybe I hadn’t ever paid attention to.”
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina uprooted Turner and forced him to spend the next few years on couches of relatives and friends. During his first year at Fullerton, he was unable to keep living in a team house and then had to sleep in the car of his girlfriend, R’Mya Demarrco, or sometimes sleep on a park bench. He lived with DeMarrco’s relatives until April, when Section 8 housing regulations forced him out of a home again. He says he took 23 credits his last semester to graduate, enabling his transfer.
Though he’s lived most of his life without it, in Boise, Turner has stability, which he said is “awesome.”
“It’s stable, home-wise, everything’s great,” Turner said. “I’m so grateful.”
Boise State received its waiver to help Turner on May 13. The school was able to provide him a hotel room and three meals a day at the attached restaurant while he finished school at Fullerton College. It also was able to bring him to Boise a week early for summer school and place him on scholarship immediately.
After Boise State’s request last night, the school may provide immediate assistance to football student-athlete Antoine Turner.
— NCAA (@NCAA) May 14, 2014
It was a departure from NCAA regulations because Turner had not even completed his associate’s degree. Boise State sought a waiver under the NCAA’s legislative relief policy.
“You usually cannot provide any assistance until they arrive on campus,” said John Cunningham, a senior associate athletic director in charge of compliance at Boise State. “… But that’s what legislative relief is all about. You have rules, but you have circumstances that have those rules not fit that situation. In this case, student-athlete welfare dictated us being able to do this kind of outside of the rules.”
Turner quickly was, as he says, “thrown into the fire” with tough summer workouts that burned off the 20 pounds he says he put on once he was able to be provided money for meals by Boise State.
“I kind of was thinking, like, ‘man, that park bench sounds pretty good right now,’ ” Turner said with a laugh.
Though he was expected to contribute early, Turner has played a slightly bigger role this season with senior defensive tackles Tyler Horn and Justin Taimatuia out for the year with injuries. In four games, Turner has three tackles — sharing a tackle for loss with Gabe Perez on Saturday against Louisiana — and two pass breakups. He feels he is getting more and more acclimated, and pointed out he only has two seasons to make an impact, so the time is now.
“Out of everything, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life — play football for Boise State,” Turner said.
Boise State defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said “it was a whole new world” for Turner when he first underwent conditioning and started practicing. But the veteran assistant also said Turner is finding his place.
“His big thing is becoming more consistent,” Caldwell said. “He has really caught on to playing at the level we want him to and playing hard all the time and running to the ball. There are still a lot of technique things that he comes out of that he needs to get better at, but I’m happy where he is.”
Turner’s teammates have welcomed the gregarious Turner with open arms. Linebacker Ben Weaver said he did not know much of Turner’s story until this summer when he drove him to a team bowling outing.
“He was very open about it, it was kind of an unbelievable story, how much courage he has,” Weaver said. “It’s amazing he made it here and he can only go further.”
Caldwell said the topic of what Turner has gone through doesn’t come up much, but he obviously is well aware, with hopes it inspires him.
“We don’t talk about the past,” Caldwell said. “I think any time you’ve gone through things in your life, if you’re the right type of person, then you take that as a motivation and try to get better and push yourself harder so you maybe never have to go back there or your family never has to go back there.”
I passed all my classes,Graduating with honors , and leaving to follow my dreams of being a Student and then a Athlete God is good#ATF#Boise
— Antoine L. Turner (@AiReZsO720) May 21, 2014
Coming to a new place where hard work took on a new definition, Turner has embraced the challenge, and has a little bit of extra stability with DeMarrco, who has enrolled at Boise State. The pair would sometimes sleep in her car or scrounge money from her job to get a hotel room before the waiver.
“It was a big transition for her, because she’s never been away from home, so I’m using what I know about being away from home to help her now,” Turner said.
Turner calls being a part of the Boise State program “exhilarating.” Now, Boise is home — a word with incredible meaning to him.
“To be able to eat every day and not worry about much, that’s just a blessing from God — I couldn’t ask for nothing more from this school, what it’s done for me, that’s pretty awesome,” Turner said. “… I love this team, I love this city. I want to do as much as I can for this city and this team, just to pay my respects for everything they’ve done for me. I’m just hoping one of these games I can have 100,000 sacks in one game and 20,000 tackles for loss, just to say thank you.”