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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Football

For Payton Turner, being drafted by the Saints ‘a dream come true’


UH senior defensive lineman Payton Turner (98) lands a big hit on BYU's Mason Fakahua during a game on Oct. 16, 2020 at TDECU Stadium. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH senior defensive lineman Payton Turner (98) lands a big hit on BYU’s Mason Fakahua during a game on Oct. 16, 2020, at TDECU Stadium. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Thursday night is one that former Houston football defensive lineman Payton Turner will never forget in his life.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped onto the stage in Cleveland with the New Orleans Saints pick in hand and announced it to the nation: with the 28th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Saints chose Turner.

“It’s a dream come true,” Turner told reporters following the selection on Thursday night. “It’s really special to me. I am on cloud nine.”

Andre Ware, Lamar Lathon, David Klingler, Billy Milner, Antowain Smith, D.J. Hayden, William Jackson, Ed Oliver and now Turner comprise the list of UH players in the last 31 years to go in the first round of the NFL Draft. 

“There is a lot of tradition at (UH), and I am just glad to be a part of it,” Turner told Fox 26. “To be on that wall with big-time players. I’m just blessed.”

The 6-foot-6-inch Houston native overcame multiple obstacles on his path to New Orleans, beginning before his collegiate career when he tore his ACL his senior season in high school.

Fittingly, his final season at UH will forever be marred by COVID-19. In an already shortened season, he missed a game due to a calf strain, another to contact tracing, and then ended up contracting the virus, but not even all those obstacles were enough from hindering Turner’s play.

He still led the Cougars with 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2020.

In his junior season, Turner played all 12 games for UH, notching 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks and four broken fingers as a defensive tackle. Yes — four broken fingers.

Throughout his time with the Cougars, Turner left his mark on the field. From recording an interception against Rice in his freshman season to forcing fumbles, blocking punts, and even notching an eight-tackle game multiple times in his collegiate career, the last of which came in 2020 against Navy.

Turner’s former coaches were delighted with the Saints’ pick as well.

“That’s how we raise ‘em at the H,” UH defensive line coach Brian Early tweeted. “It’s not about what you’re CAPABLE of doing, it’s about what you’re WILLING to do.  Pedal to the floor for 60 minutes!”

Now a member of the Saints, Turner is excited for the next chapter in his life and is thrilled with the “invaluable” opportunity to learn from elite defenders in the NFL like Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport.

How Turner’s professional career plays out is unknown, but for the lineman, how he will attack the game both on and off the field can be summarized in a few words.

“Violent and relentless is the way I play,” Turner said. “Every time I am out on that field, I am going to give it everything I got, and as far as a person, I am going to be a leader.”

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