Turner’s legacy lives past death
Former UH football star T.J. Turner died Monday in a Bryan hospital of complications from a stroke suffered last week. He was 46.
Before donning scarlet and albino white for the Cougars from 1982-85, Turner was a star in track and field and football at Lufkin High School for then-coach Roy Knight.
Knight, now the superintendent for the Lufkin Independent School District, remembers Turner as an imposing figure on the field, but said his personality made him a natural leader.
‘In the locker room, he was loved by his peers, and he was kind to everyone,’ Knight said. ‘He was never one of those ‘Ya’ll come on’ players; he was like ‘Let’s go, guys’ with his team. A proud Lufkin Panther through and through.’
During his days at Lufkin, Turner was a nationally recruited defensive lineman and chose UH over programs such as UCLA because of his relationship with assistant coach Elmer Redd.
When Turner arrived, he wasted no time justifying the national attention, earning a spot on the Freshman All-American team in 1982. The next three seasons, he was a member of the All-Southwest Conference team and led the Cougars in sacks in three of the four seasons he played.
Knight remembers Turner as more than deserving of the hype surrounding his impending college career.
‘T.J. was probably the best high school football player we’ve ever had come through Lufkin High School,’ he said. ‘And we’ve had one or two pretty good ones over the years.’
What Knight remembers more than any spectacular plays or impassioned speeches authored by Turner is the way he treated those around him with respect.
‘He was a giant of a man as a kid, but was the kindest, most gentle kid I ever had the pleasure of being around,’ Knight said. ‘He was generous to a fault, and I never heard him say a bad word about anyone else.’
That generosity extended to Knight’s family, as he recalled the towering 6-5, 240-pound Turner as a trusted babysitter during track trips.
‘As a young high school track coach, my 3-year-old son would travel with us to track meets, and T.J. would take him and put him on the seat next to him and say, ‘I’ll take care of Bubba,” Knight said.
‘My only request was that my 3-year-old not come home with any new words in his vocabulary, and I never had to worry about that with T.J.’
Ahead of his time
Although Turner made his mark on the football field at UH, he was also a standout on the track circuit, twice competing at the Texas State 4A Championships. He competed in the shot put as a junior, and as a senior, won the state title, throwing it more than 60 feet.
His athleticism and versatility served him on the football field as well, and he occasionally found his way into the offensive huddle.
‘He was our first version of The Refrigerator Perry before ‘the Fridge’ was popular,’ Knight said. ‘In his senior year, we would sneak him in at fullback, and he would either blow up the hole or if we gave him the ball, we could sneak him across the goal line.’
After his senior season, Turner was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the third round of the 1986 draft. He played defensive end and nose tackle from 1986-92, compiling 16 sacks in 101 games.
He is still UH’s all-time leader in tackles for loss with 66. His 1984 team, which played in the Cotton Bowl, will be honored at the Sept. 5 season opener against Northwestern State.
Funeral services for Turner are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at First Missionary Baptist Church in Lufkin.