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July 19, 2009

Turner has something to prove

HARRISONBURG - Landon Turner dislikes staying in shape solely through running, apparently to the point that getting punched and kicked seems preferable by comparison.

While visiting his father in Daphne, Ala., this summer, Turner - Harrisonburg High School's highly touted rising junior lineman - needed to find a way to spice up his workout regimen.

"I've always been interested in mixed martial arts," Turner said at James Madison University's football camp Thursday. "Like, I watch UFC and everything. I needed a way to stay in shape that was interactive, because I have a hard time just running every day. My stepmom said, 'Well, there's a gym here if you want to go to that.'"

That's how Turner ended up at Tomaso's Martial Arts Academy in nearby Fairhope, Ala., engaging in MMA and Brazilian jiu-jitsu training for two hours a day, four days a week.

"She signed me up, I signed the waiver, we paid, and we took it from there," Turner said with a smile. "It's really an interesting experience. There was actually sparring involved; it was very physical. It was a lot like wrestling, actually, that's what it reminded me of. It's all about leverage, with some kick-boxing techniques."

The 6-foot-5, 295-pound Turner found some opponents his own size to spar with, too, including a semipro football player.

"He was really strong," Turner said. "He was like 6-3, 270. I did all right, actually. The guy who owned the place said I should continue with it, 'cause I was doing pretty good. .... I think I'm going to stick to football for now."

That might not be a bad idea, as Turner - still just 16 years old - is already the area's top college prospect.

Turner was a second-team All-Massanutten District offensive tackle as a freshman, but broke his left fibula in the first quarter of Harrisonburg's season-opener last year.

Despite sitting out, Turner's stock continued to skyrocket, attracting the attention of Southeastern Conference power Florida, along with other major programs, including Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

Turner is currently ranked No. 3 on Virginiapreps.com's list of the top players in the Class of 2011, and Maxpreps.com called him "perhaps the best sophomore offensive lineman in the nation" and put him on its sophomore All-American team.

"This is his year to prove he can play," Harrisonburg coach Tim Sarver said. "He missed all last year there after getting hurt the first game, and he had a great freshman year, but this year is going to determine what level he's looked at."

Turner said he recognizes the importance of this year, adding he simply wants to get on the field.

"[College] coaches said one of the reasons they haven't verbally told me they were going to offer me - in the SEC, anyway - is because they hadn't seen me play sophomore year," he said. "So, missing a year really hurt, and I'm really excited. I mean, I haven't played the sport I love in almost a year now. I'm just ready."

Turner was among the 36 HHS players taking part in the JMU camp, one of just two that the Blue Streaks attend as a team each summer. HHS went to a 7-on-7 camp at Central High last month.

"I like to give the kids and coaches a break," Sarver said. "I think you can overdo it, but obviously the advantages of sending kids to camp is they're going to have more repetitions."

In the meantime, players are free to attend individual camps, and Turner attended a pair of sessions at Florida and Georgia last month.

"Florida had all these speed guys," he said. "I remember this one guy - I don't know what his name was - but he was probably 5-8, maybe 220, 230, and he was handling all the 6-8 guys. 'Handling' as in [they] were tying with him. It was a competitive camp. As far as atmosphere, it was unbelievable. Florida, I mean they're the national champions, and they obviously have the money from it; it was just evident."

Turner said he spent about four weeks with his father - former WVU linebacker West Turner - and returned to Harrisonburg on Monday.

HHS starts practice Aug. 10 in preparation for its Sept. 4 season opener against Handley. Turner will be counted on to help anchor a blocking group that graduated three key members, but returns seniors Nick Fornadel, Herb Singleton, Robert Walton and tight end Shane Pouncey.

"I'm so excited for this season," Turner said. "Not only for myself, but for my teammates, you know?"
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