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April 25, 2004


DeKALB, IL --- "Turner the Burner" is now officially Turner the Charger. Yes, Northern Illinois University's record-setting All-America tailback Michael Turner was selected in the fifth round of the 2004 National Football League draft by the San Diego Chargers Sunday (April 25) afternoon in New York City.

"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Turner said, driving back to the NIU campus from his mother's home in North Chicago. "I'm still surprised. I'm just happy to be drafted. Yeah, I thought it would be earlier." At the same time, the two-day NFL draft---headquartered in Madison Square Garden---turned out to be a nerve-wracking experience. "I'm relieved. (I'm) glad it's over."

Projected to be a second, third, or fourth-round pick in pre-draft ratings, Turner was the 22nd pick in the fifth round or the 154th player chosen overall in the 255-player draft. There were predictions the all-time Huskie career rusher would be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, etc. But San Diego?
On the other hand, a 5-foot-10, 232-pound guy nicknamed "The Burner" with a :04.46 time in the 40 wearing a helmet with lightning bolts? Maybe this is a good fit. "Never thought of it that way," Turner said with a laugh.

With his family, brothers, "15-to-20 people" at home, the call came about 1 p.m. (CDT). A second one from Charger head coach Marty Schottenheimer followed. "He was just happy that the Chargers drafted me," Turner said. "It was just a welcome to the team." "The Burner" will jet to the West Coast for mini-camp in two weeks.

Turner became the 29th Northern Illinois performer to be picked in the NFL draft since 1952 and the second by San Diego. In 1986, DeKalb product and wide receiver Curt Pardridge was tabbed in the sixth round and the 155th player overall by the Chargers. "The Burner" represented the fourth NFL draftee---along with offensive tackle Ryan Diem (fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2001), wide receiver Justin McCareins (fourth round by the Tennessee Titans in 2001), and wide receiver Darrell Hill (seventh round by the Tennessee Titans in 2002)---in the Joe Novak era at NIU.

"San Diego has a plan and a place for Michael," Novak said. "Yes, I thought he would probably go a little sooner in the draft. But it's a good opportunity for him in a warm-weather city. Marty Schottenheimer is an old school coach. LaDainian Tomlinson is their starter at runningback. As I always say, you never have enough runningbacks and that's exactly where Michael can fit in. You never know what can happen."

Tomlinson, the former Texas Christian All-America, led the Bolts in rushing with 1,645 yards and 13 touchdowns on 313 carries last season. Other rostered 2003 San Diego Chargers runningbacks included Jesse Chatman, Doug Chapman, Leon Johnson, plus fullbacks Andrew Pinnock and Lornezo Neal.

A two-time All-America, Doak Walker National Runningback Award semifinalist, and First-Team All-Mid-American Conference pick, Turner wound up second in major-college rushing in both 2002 (1,905 yards) and in 2003 (1,648 yards), plus completed his career 13th on the all-time National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1-A ground-gaining list with 4,941 yards. "The Burner" finished his career with at least 13 major Northern Illinois records.

Turner was one of nine Huskie seniors on various 2004 NFL pre-draft lists. Former Northern Illinois standouts such as placekicker Steve Azar (Colorado Springs, CO / Highlands Ranch), center Todd Ghilani (Elkhorn, WI / Area), strong safety Akil Grant (Kankakee), linebacker Nick Duffy (Wheaton / Warrenville South), defensive end Jason Frank (Lakeville, MN), cornerback Randee Drew (Milwaukee, WI / Glendale Nicolet), wide receiver P. J. Fleck (Sugar Grove / Maple Park Kaneland), and defensive end Vinson Reynolds (Detroit, MI / St. Martin dePorres) could be signing NFL free agent contracts in the next few weeks.

(For further information, please contact Mike Korcek) -NIU-


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