ANNAPOLIS — Always kidding, always joking, Navy wide receiver Brandon Turner put on his most serious face recently as he approached Danny O'Rourke, his old position coach.
Out came the questions from the inquisitive senior. Why the temper? Why so hyper?
"I said 'I learned it from you,'" O'Rourke said with a laugh.
Yes, Turner offers a different element for the Midshipmen (7-4), who face Army (2-9) on Saturday in Philadelphia. At a place where some measure of uniformity is inherently needed to survive and thrive, Turner has found as comfortable a balance as he can as his football career comes to a close.
He's still the guy who can quote a hip-hop lyric to apply to any situation. He's still as likely as anyone on the roster to find a quirky YouTube clip and post it to a teammate's Facebook page. And he maintains a candid voice, remaining true to his own ideals while hewing to academy norms when needed.
"I don't really like following the crowd," Turner said. "I like being a little bit different, but at the same time I know when to be the head-bobbing sheep that follows the crowd. I think I do a little bit of both."
Nowhere is that more valuable than in helping keep Navy loose. Turner will holler "Cannon" when freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds uncorks a long pass, generating the occasional confused look from coach Ken Niumatalolo along the way.
In the locker room, teammates must be aware of a tradition Turner started with former quarterback Kriss Proctor, who would willfully ignore his friend's attempts to get his attention. Turner's response was to unspool the athletic tape on his wrist, ball it up and hit Proctor in the back of the head from across the room.
"You'll take a wad of tape to the face and look over and Brandon's hiding behind somebody and he thinks that great," slotback Bo Snelson said. "He brings a certain comic relief — never really off topic, never really off focus. He's always there to work hard, but he's always there. If you take a peek over at him, he's probably over there having a good time."
Turner, though, isn't a full-time goofball. He yearns to know why things will be done a certain way so he can understand a coach or teammate's thinking. He's started 23 games over the last three seasons. And he's put his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame to work.
In most offenses, a wide receiver is a big-play option and a deep threat. In Navy's triple-option scheme, receivers usually are relied upon for blocking on nearly every play.
So while a team-high 19 catches for 248 yards might appear modest, Turner contributed to the running game all season. He also caught two touchdowns in Navy's defeat of Florida Atlantic last month to clinch bowl eligibility.
"He's a playful guy," senior slotback Gee Gee Greene said. "He always has a lot of enthusiasm, and he's very amusing. But at the same time, he has a lot of raw talent, and he comes out and makes a lot of plays."
Of course, that personality has created some headaches for Turner during his time at the academy.
As a plebe, he gravitated toward older teammates who weren't caught up in his personality quirks. He was frustrated relationships with classmates were far more businesslike than personal. And he struggled to see how failing to complete things would have a long-term impact on his time at the academy.
"I've had almost every board here you can have," Turner said. "I've had an academic board, I've had a conduct board, I've had an aptitude board, I've had a P.E. board."
Those problems were isolated to his first two years, and he had no trouble as a junior. But on the first day of preseason camp, Niumatalolo announced Turner failed a physical readiness test and would not join the team until classes started.
Turner said he "just got complacent," and with the constant responsibilities of academy life lifted he took advantage of going home to Seattle and visiting with family and spending time with his girlfriend. Guarding against complacency was high on Niumatalolo's list of concerns after a 5-7 season, and he was willing to gamble on losing one of his most experienced players.
"That was heavily on my mind," Niumatalolo said. "I was taking a chance I might lose one of my best players. I agonized on that a little bit. I just felt like for our team, after last year, I wanted to send a strong message."
Turner considering walking "many times" but ultimately set to work to pass the fitness test. He dropped 15 pounds, working out with his old high school coach (who had since relocated to Mount Airy, Md.) before rejoining the team in mid-August.
It was a difficult time, since Turner knew he was responsible for putting himself in a bad position. But hearing he was self-centered stung just as much.
"It hurt, especially when you're out there blocking for these dudes all the time," Turner said. "I got, what, last year — 14 catches in 12 games? You're calling me selfish? I block for you on every single play and put my body on the line, and you're calling me selfish. It was tough and a tough pill to swallow."
What was far more important than Turner's predicament was how he handled it. He checked in with assistant coach Mick Yokitis throughout his brief exile. After working his way back up the depth chart, he reclaimed a starting position in the season's third game.
He's played a crucial part in Navy's turnaround from its first losing season in nine years and is in line to help the Mids win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 2009. As usual, he'll do his part in his own unique way.
"He's a good kid and he has a good family and they're good people," O'Rourke said. "They raised a good kid. He just wants to be a little different."
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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