Turner takes leading role on UNC's veteran offensive line
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) The way coach Larry Fedora sees it, Landon Turner is the perfect leader for North Carolina's offensive line.
He's a fifth-year senior wrapping up a tumultuous career marked by NCAA investigations, two coaching changes, an overhaul to a no-huddle offense, even a postseason ban that kept the Tar Heels out of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in 2012. He also balances a relentless on-field drive with an easygoing demeanor that is just as interested in one day writing a novel as playing in the NFL.
''He's not your stereotypical offensive lineman,'' Fedora said.
And that's what makes Turner the right guy to helm a line with five returning starters this fall. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound guard from Harrisonburg, Virginia, knows to be ready for anything.
''I've seen a lot of people come and go,'' Turner said. ''But what always remains constant is there's a football season to play. Football doesn't change.''
Turner and starting quarterback Marquise Williams are the only remaining players who arrived in January 2011 under Butch Davis amid an NCAA probe into violations within the program. Both players went through spring drills in Davis' pro-style offense, only to see the school abruptly fire Davis that July shortly before training camp.
Turner redshirted that fall under interim coach Everett Withers before UNC hired Fedora as its third head coach in five months. That left Turner to adjust to Fedora's new fast-paced offense while playing behind eventual NFL draft picks Jonathan Cooper, Russell Bodine, Travis Bond and Brennan Williams as well as James Hurst, a four-year starter who went undrafted after an injury but now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
Turner shed about 10 pounds to handle the faster tempo and started four games late in his redshirt freshman season. He's been a fixture on UNC's line ever since, starting 24 games over the past two seasons and earning preseason all-America honors from some preview publications ahead of his final year.
Fedora said Turner's presence makes coaches ''very comfortable,'' while line coach Chris Kapilovic said Turner's talent, work ethic and experience command respect from his linemates.
''I told him he looks like he's about 35, there's no question he's the oldest guy in the crew,'' Kapilovic said. ''He's a great leader. There's no doubt that the team and the offensive line and the offense all look to him for leadership. ... He's a hard worker. He cares about the team. He's not a `me' or `I' guy. I think the other players really see that.''
When asked about being the leader, though, and Turner will try to deflect the question. He talks about enjoying the anonymity of playing on a line for a successful offense with skill-position players getting the glory, a world where linemen are typically noticed only when they have a bad play.
''It's still a group mentality,'' Turner said. ''Even if people point to me, there's still five of us. That's the beauty of the position. An O-lineman can't be an individual. It's in our nature not to be. It's not really possible. All of our blocking schemes require communicating with each other. Very rarely you'll find yourself truly on your own.''
Yet few on the roster can understand what Turner's years in Chapel Hill have been like.
Turner said teammates ask questions about a career that began as the NCAA investigated improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program before issuing sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA later reopened a probe into academic misconduct connected to the school's long-running academic fraud scandal and recently hit UNC with five charges, though none specifically against football.
Turner said the off-field turmoil has taught him to focus on what he can control. Right now, that means preparing for a final run in college football before graduating with a double major in December and turning his attention to the NFL.
''There's things to do in the season, and those things may be different from Coach Fedora to Coach Davis, but it's still going to the same goal,'' he said. ''So fundamentally nothing changes. Even with the NCAA stuff, to me, really what difference does it make? I'm still going to class. I'm still doing my responsibilities. I can't let it change that.''
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