Published November 08, 2012
LINCOLN, Neb. – All it took was one catch to change Jamal Turner's outlook.
Before he scored the game-winning touchdown with six seconds left against Michigan State last week, Turner had been worried about the direction of his football career at Nebraska.
He hadn't scored in his first 20 games. There were long stretches between catches. And he hadn't been able to erase memories of getting benched last year for poor practices.
Then with time running out and Nebraska trailing the Spartans, Taylor Martinez delivered a perfect pass to Turner in the corner of the end zone for a 28-24 victory.
And everything changed.
"I feel like a new man," Turner said. "I feel like a way better wide receiver. I feel the team looks at me differently. When we need a big play, they look at me to make it because of that one touchdown. It's definitely a confidence booster."
The sophomore certainly needed some confidence. He came to Nebraska from Arlington, Texas, as a four-star quarterback recruit. He enrolled in January 2011 and switched to receiver after three spring practices.
Turner was accustomed to being the best player on the field in high school. He was just another guy at Nebraska, and he didn't know how hard he needed to work to distinguish himself.
"As talented as he was and is, he had a lot to learn, and he still does," coach Bo Pelini said. "I think he has a lot better understanding of what we're asking him to do and what defenses are trying to do to him there in the slot. It takes a good feel to play in there."
Turner is the 18th-ranked Cornhuskers' fifth-leading receiver heading into Saturday's game against Penn State, with 16 catches for 214 yards. Nine of those catches have come in the last four games.
He nearly scored his first touchdown two weeks ago against Michigan. The Huskers had a third-and-goal at the Michigan 2, and Turner had his man beaten on a corner route to the right side of the end zone.
Martinez threw a good pass, but the stadium lights created a glare on Turner's helmet visor and he lost sight of the ball as it sailed over his shoulder. Instead of an easy touchdown, the Huskers settled for a field goal.
"I'll never wear a visor in a game again," Turner said.
Turner made good on the same pattern, except on the opposite side of the field, on the winning touchdown against the Spartans.
"Right before that play, right before that series, Jamal was like, 'I'm going to score a touchdown this series,'''receiver Quincy Enunwa said. "For him to go out there and do it, exactly what he said, is great."
Turner has earned the trust of his coaches because of his improved blocking and greater precision in route-running. His playing time also increased because of a shoulder injury to senior Tim Marlowe.
"That's sad that had to happen for me to get more reps," Turner said. "It just happened, the nature of the beast."
Last week's touchdown allowed the chatty Turner to lift his self-imposed gag order. He vowed early in the season that he wouldn't speak to reporters until he scored.
He gushed after the game and again this week as he described his joy.
"Finally, now I got that one," he said. "The other ones are going to come easy. I'm glad I got it out of the way. I'm going to stay hungry and get another one."