Colonels looking for 'Hammer' to nail opponents

jturnerWINCHESTER —James Wood football player Jackson Turner got the nickname he carries around today when he was barely big enough to tote a pigskin.
His father Chip can take credit for the moniker.
“Back in I believe my second year of playing football, my dad was my coach,” Turner explained after a recent Colonels practice. “I was about seven years old and this one kid came through the hole and with my natural instinct I hit him and he fell over. My dad was like, 'Way to go Hammer' and I kind of stuck with it. I've always tried to live up to that nickname since.”
Teammates and opponents will tell you that “Hammer” is doing a pretty good job at that task. With his bruising running as a fullback and his aggressive play at middle linebacker, Turner has nailed plenty of people during his football career.
“He is 'The Hammer,'” backfield mate William Crowder said with a chuckle when asked about Turner's nickname. “Yep, he will lay the boom on you.”
“I think 'Hammer' describes him really well,” center and defensive tackle Hayden Cunningham added. “He runs hard and does a lot of hard things.”
It's been that way since Colonels head coach Ryan Morgan first saw Turner on the gridiron. The third-year head coach was the JV head coach when Turner arrived as a freshman.
“He came to us in ninth grade and he already had that nickname and he proved it,” Morgan said. “He was pretty short coming into ninth grade. He started at fullback for us and ran over a lot of people. I know it was JV, but we were playing against Spring Mills and a safety came up as Jackson was running up the middle. Jackson hit him and the safety kind of went vertical and ended up flat in the air before he ended it up on his back.”
Now 5-foot-9 1/2 and 210 pounds, Turner is still a wrecking ball that loves contact on the field.
As a fullback, Turner gets the tough inside yards for the Colonels, who have a pair of speedsters in Crowder and Sam Adkins to break off the long runs.
He also delivers big hits from his middle linebacker slot. Turner has been the team's defensive MVP the past two seasons.
Turner has a hard time deciding which he likes better — running over a defensive back or crushing a running back or receiver.
“It's a big 50-50 because I adore both sides of the ball,” Turner said.
Offensively, Turner does the dirty work running between the tackles. He's not going to break off the long TD runs, but he's going to get the tough yardage often required to extend drives.
Last season, Turner carried the ball a team-high 134 times and was second on the squad with 607 yards. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry and led the Colonels with eight touchdowns.
“He keeps us on schedule,” Morgan said. “We know he's not the guy who is going to take it around the edge and go 80 yards, but he is the type of guy who can get up to four, five or six yards when we need it. He's not afraid of those tough runs. Sometimes you see football players who know it's an inside run, but they want to bounce it outside every time. If he sees a hole or a cutback lane, he's able to make those cuts, but if you need one yard he's going to do his best to give us one yard.”
Turner said he thrives on getting the tough yards.
“The short yardage runs mean a lot because they can be a make or a break it,” he said. “When you can get that third-and-2 or a third-and-4 and you can get that first down, that gives your team a time to breath and gives us another set of downs to drive down the field.”
Morgan said Turner's desire to get the tough yardage reminds him of a story about a former NFL player.
“There's a quote by Leroy Hoard who used to play for the Cleveland Browns who said, 'Coach, if you need three yards I will get you three yards. If you need eight yards, I will get you three yards,'" Morgan said. "That is kind of Jackson.
“He runs behind his pads and he'll put his head down and try to burrow through people,” Morgan added. “He'll run through people and keep his feet moving. Some running backs stop their feet on contact or want to bounce it outside. Even if he is getting dragged to the ground, you can see his feet churning through the mud or whatever surface we're playing on.”
Turner admits he loves the contact.
“It's my favorite thing in the world,” he said. “Sometimes it catches up to me.”
One of those times happened last season in a Colonels win against Fauquier. Turner found himself in a position where he didn't have a lot a bodies around him as he broke through the line.
“Last year against Fauquier, he had a chance of scoring about a 40-yard touchdown when he busted through the middle,” Morgan recalled. “There was a safety and he could have run to the corner of the end zone and scored a touchdown or he could have attempted to run over the safety. You could see that he was headed vertical and he leaned back inside to take on that contact. He ran over the guy, but he also got tripped up in the process. We'd like him to score the touchdown, but that does show his mentality.”
The aggressiveness carries over to the defense. Turner was second on the squad with 72 tackles last season and was always around the ball.
“He plays the most important spot on defense,” Cunningham said. “He leads the D-line and tells them the calls and everything. He shows good leadership.”
Turner likes that teammates look to him for leadership on and off the field.
“I take it very seriously,” he said. “I love being able to get my teammates pumped up in the weight room and on the field, getting everyone pumped up and getting ready for the game. It's just making sure we're on the right path.”
“It rubs off to everybody knowing he's the leader and they want to be what he is,” Crowder said. “He basically is given the genus for others to be good and keep the work ethic like he has. No one has it better than he has. He wants to help others.”
While Turner's nickname elicits thoughts of blunt force, Morgan said that his senior is more than a wrecking ball turned loose on Friday nights. Morgan said that Turner is motivated and a student of the game.
Morgan equates Turner with one of the school's all-time great running backs.
“I don't worry about him not wanting to finish conditioning or not wanting to be here,” Morgan said. “Some kids prefer to be somewhere else on Saturday or something like that. He doesn't mind putting in the work, looking at the playbook, watching film.
“His dad coached him when he was younger and he played travel ball over in Loudoun County. So when he came to me in ninth grade, he was probably one of the two smartest football players coming in. He and Tyler Bishop are probably the two of the smartest football players that we've had coming up in ninth grade that I've seen.
“He absorbs everything that we give to him, whether it be offensively or defensively. We don't have to tell him anything twice. With technique and stuff like that, he picks up on the little things really well. We're lucky to have him.”
Turner expects this to be his best season, yet. He's put in the time on and off the field. He's as strong as ever, recently dead-lifting 420 pounds before fall practice started.
“I definitely feel more prepared this year,” he said. “I've done a lot of college camps and gotten a lot external coaching and I've learned a lot more about the game of football.”
A couple of college programs are paying attention Turner's prowess. Division III Catholic has offered the excellent student a chance to extend his football career along with Western University, located in London, Ontario.
“I got into college football when I was very young and I always told myself that that's going to be what I'm going to do,” said Turner, who credits his father for recruiting help. “I've always stuck with it.”
Turner said his father, who played some college football, is his biggest fan and toughest critic. Chip Turner is pretty hard to miss in the stands.
“He's always the loudest guy,” Jackson said. “I can hear him on the field no matter what.”
Turner said he's considering a couple of majors in college, but one might be a surprise for someone that goes by “Hammer” — music.
Turner describes himself as self-taught on the piano.
“At home I have my own little studio, headset and everything,” said Turner who likes all kinds of music. “It's kind of in my room. Sometimes I will have a friend who can sing real well come over and we'll work on a song or whatever.”
“He's kind of our DJ in the weight room when it comes time to pick the right music,” Morgan said. “It's fun having somebody who is not all just about football. He has another side to him which is important.”
Still football is big and Turner admits if he does venture to Canada, he hopes to parlay it into maybe playing in the CFL one day.
“It's always been in the back pocket to play professional football because it's such a longshot nowadays,” he said. “To have that chance would be crazy.”
But right now, he's gotten an immediate goal of leading the Colonels to an improvement. After going 2-8 in Turner's first varsity season, James Wood was 4-6 last year.
“I'm very blessed,” Turner said. “I love playing for my team. I love making sure we do the best we can do no matter what.”
He has an idea what he'd like to see every Friday.
“A good night for us is when we have shutdowns on defense and when we're pressing down the field on offense,” Turner said. “It's games like when we played Handley [a 21-14 overtime win] last year when we were pressing, pressing and pressing down the field, but our defense was getting awesome stops and holding them on third and fourth down and keeping the game alive. Those are things our team definitely takes a lot of pride in.”
And of course, Turner is awful proud of his nickname.
“I love it,” Turner said. “A lot of kids at school will be like, 'Hey, Hammer' and I say, 'Thank you.' It's always a fun thing.”