On one side of the country Saturday, Maryland quarterback Chris Turner came off the bench to lead Maryland to a comeback victory at Rutgers.
On the opposite coast just north of Los Angeles, his father realized the value of his pay-per-view investment.
“It’s the best $20 I ever spent,” John Turner said of seeing his son’s second-half heroics.
Plenty more people could fork over money to see a glimpse of the sophomore this week. Turner, almost an afterthought in a camp battle also featuring Jordan Steffy and Josh Portis, helped the Terrapins rally to their first road victory over a top-10 team since 1990.
In the process, he riveted the attention of fans and teammates alike and could make his first career start for the Terrapins (3-2, 0-1 ACC) if Steffy’s concussion keeps him from playing tomorrow against Georgia Tech (3-2, 1-2).
“He was real calm in the huddle,” said tackle Scott Burley, one of Turner’s roommates. “He would say, ‘Guys, are you ready to score again? Are you ready to run the ball on these guys?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’ ”
It was a glimpse into the Californian’s easy-going personality, which surfaces in various ways. He wore a faded In-N-Out Burger T-shirt into a media session this week, and he has rotated his blond hair — currently curly and a bit poofy — through dreadlocks, cornrows and a military-style buzz cut since arriving at Maryland.
There are the visual comparisons to the title character in “Napoleon Dynamite” and Sunshine from “Remember the Titans,” not to mention the bonus nickname of Booty developed by teammates. There’s even some offbeat family history; John Turner was the original drummer for the band Ratt.
But being a character only carries so much cachet. Coolly completing 14 of 20 passes for 149 yards in his first extended playing time since high school in 2004 means a bit more.
“It’s a blast,” Turner said. “I feel the team rallying around me. Everybody tells me all the time, ‘Chris, we have tons of faith in you.’ ”
And for good reason. Turner showed he could play to his strengths against Rutgers, keeping the Scarlet Knights honest with his downfield throws while deftly slinging passes just before pressure enveloped him in the backfield.
It was similar plays in scrimmages — but often not practices — that earned praise from Maryland’s staff last spring. While Portis, who was suspended for the season last month for a violation of the school’s code of academic integrity, and Steffy dominated the discussion for the open quarterback job, Turner simply plied his trade.
“I think he sat back and he watched that,” Burley said. “I don’t know if it got to him a little bit. He never let any of us know. He never showed it, either. He always went out there and practiced and got his reps and tried to make the most of it. Now that he’s up here with the first team taking first-team reps, it’s like we’re not missing a beat.”
That was never guaranteed because of his practice performance. Coach Ralph Friedgen mused early last month, “He’s out there by Pluto sometimes,” and chuckled this week when Turner couldn’t complete a 5-yard route he usually struggles with.
Turner’s reply? That he will hit it in a game, a reply simultaneously cool and cocksure.
“They see a laid-back attitude, but when it’s in the middle of a competition, there is a change,” John Turner said. “Make no mistake, there’s a fiery little guy there when it’s time to go.”
It was during Saturday’s game that Turner’s attitude proved useful. He shrugged off a missed read or two, simply moving on to the next play. He remained calm even when Maryland nursed a three-point lead in the fourth quarter.
And he handled Friedgen’s instructions with ease, at one point telling the coach that in order to get in and out of the huddle as quick as requested he would need the plays sent in from the sideline faster.
“Some of those kids wouldn’t say that,” Friedgen said. “He did, and he was right. I do think his demeanor is probably unlike anyone we’ve had here.”
It rubbed off on the rest of the Terps, and Friedgen even admitted it had a calming effect on him. Turner could be in position to assuage Friedgen’s worries further if he can handle the constant blitz from Georgia Tech and send the Terps into the bye week on a winning streak if he’s pressed into action.
That sort of performance would provide more for Friedgen to consider about an increasingly uncertain quarterback situation.
“I want to play as much as anyone,” Turner said. “I’m happy I got an opportunity. I don’t know where it’s going to take me. I’m just going to go with it and roll with it. Whatever happens, happens. I’m glad to be playing again.”