After interception, true freshman ready to make his mark
Freshman Payton Turner did not know he was about to make the stadium explode with cheers on only his second play for the Cougars. He was just doing what he was taught his whole life when redshirt freshman Sam Glaesmann made the mistake of throwing it right at him.
“I didn’t know I was about to get the interception,” Turner said. “I just saw him wind up, and I did what coaches have always taught me. You just got to get your hands up. I wound up batting the ball and then coming down with it.”
Turner, barely 18 years old, just played in the first three games of his college career. Despite being so young, he has earned a role on the team, going from third string to second string after the Rice victory.
Turner burst on the scene in the Bayou Bucket rivalry game against the Rice Owls. The Westside High School graduate batted a pass and miraculously came down with the interception. Turner then locked in on the Rice quarterback for a sack on the next series.
The Cougars retained the trophy after a 38-3 victory, and Turner left his mark on the field.
“He has a long way to go and a lot to improve on,” said head coach Major Applewhite. “He has a nice frame that he can continue to build, and he’s intelligent. He comes from a very good family, a coach’s family, so he understands how to be competitive. He has expectations from the home, so he’s used to having to achieve. I’m looking forward to him continuing to grow and develop.”
After the game, the team announced Turner’s promotion to second-string. Applewhite said it had a lot to do with the game but was also indicative of his hard work on the practice field and having a high football IQ.
“We were on him all summer and fall camp about learning the defense,” Applewhite said. “He has the length and flexibility. He must develop the strength and put on the weight. He’s a good young man from a good family. We’re 98 percent of the way there.”
Athlete in the making
Applewhite credits a lot of Turner’s success to his athletic family and its emphasis on discipline. It starts with his mother, Elena Turner, who is a former basketball coach and Division 1 basketball player.
“Both of my parents have motivated me and pushed me my whole life to be the best player I can be,” Turner said. “I started with sports when I was really young and haven’t stopped, whether it’s football or basketball.”
Turner smiled from ear to ear when he discussed his earliest experiences with sports.
“I’ve been all about sports since I was young,” he said. “I still remember playing little tykes hoops as a kid. It was so much fun.”
Although he loves playing for the Cougars as a defensive end, Turner’s other passion is basketball. It is not just a hobby: Turner was offered multiple scholarships to play basketball but chose to join UH as a football player.
It’s not just physical ability for Turner. His knack to learn the playbook and be football-smart is what makes him stand out, despite just joining college ball.
Defensive line coach A.J. Blum thinks Turner’s willingness to learn, not just being in the right place at the right time, makes him special.
“He has shown that he can be dependable as an 18-year-old true freshman,” Blum said. “He has learned the playbook, and even at the beginning of camp, he grasped everything so well. The combination of his wisdom, his ability and knowing where to be helps him a lot.”
Turner received significantly more playing time against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday. Although the Raiders eventually got the best of the Cougar defense, he still made strides by not just coming in for relief of the starters but also playing on early downs.
The young defensive lineman finished the game with two tackles and two quarterback hits. Despite the big loss at home and giving up 521 yards of total offense, The Cougars’ bright spot of the day was Turner and the rest of the defense.
Blum said it does not matter how old a player is or how much experience they have; he will start the best players in his defensive line room. Because of the effort in practice and his game play, the coaches have given Turner more opportunities in games than other freshmen.
Despite the two big plays and all the extra attention this week, Turner continues to have his mind on only one thing: football.
“It was crazy and the loudest place I have ever been in my life after that play,” Turner said. “Everyone swarmed me, and I was so happy, but right now, I just have to keep my head down, keep grinding in the weight room and on the field, and I need to stay hungry.”