“Most explosive player in the MAC.”

—Lindy’s Big Ten

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December 10, 2002


DeKALB, IL --- Incoming. “Turner the Burner” sighting. No. 32 makes the national radar. Yup, the onslaught of 2002 postseason football awards for Northern Illinois University junior tailback Michael Turner (North Chicago) has started.

For Turner and head coach Joe Novak’s Huskie program, the regional and national exposure builds a much-needed foundation for next season’s All-America candidacy. Even the “near-misses” speak volumes on Turner’s 2002 credentials. Can anyone say “2003 Heisman Trophy candidate?” That statement may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Three of Turner’s biggest 2002 awards to date came from Collegefootballnews.com---namely that website’s (1) Mid-American Conference Player of the Year award, (2) the No. 1 player ranking in the Mid-Am, and (3) First-Team All-MAC. In a league that includes Marshall University and senior All-America quarterback Byron Leftwich, items (1) and (2) turn some heads, particularly when one considers the national publicity and awareness generated by the Thundering Herd’s success in recent years.

“With a Mid-American Conference record 1,915 rushing yards, I sure hope you can put ‘All-America candidate’ in front of Michael’s name,” Novak said. “There’s no doubt he is deserving of such notoriety. Not to be disparaging, but I thought Michael had just as good a year, if not better than Byron Leftwich. Basically, Michael gained 1,915 yards in 10 games. We all know what a great player Leftwich is, but I don’t think Michael takes a backseat to anyone in our league.”

Collegefootballnews.com agreed with Novak’s assessment. “The MAC saw several great performances this season,” the Chicago-based website observed, “but Michael Turner of Northern Illinois had the best season of anyone in the conference. Thomas Hammock was supposed to be the team’s workhorse, but he went down early in the season leaving Turner to take over the load. All Turner did was rip off 1,915 yards and 19 touchdowns, playing his strongest ball down the stretch. In the final three games of the season, Turner ran for 192 yards against Bowling Green, 225 yards and five touchdowns against Eastern Michigan, and 215 yards and a score vs. Toledo.”

According to Collegefootballnews.com, the top four players in the MAC were (1) Turner, (2) Western Michigan defensive end Jason Babin, (3) Leftwich, and (4) Northern Illinois linebacker Larry Williams (Chicago / Dunbar). Turner finished as the runner-up to Leftwich in the “official” MAC Offensive Player of the Year and Vern Smith Award balloting that was released last week by the league office and for Mid-Am Player of the Year in Insiders’ Football News (December 2, 2002, issue).

Turner was also selected team “Player of the Year” by CBSSportsLine.com which commented that “...Turner had a major impact on the MAC title race after starting the year as the back-up to Thomas Hammock...and Turner filled in at an All-American level...led the MAC in rushing...and enjoyed five 200-yard rushing performances.”
As the nation’s No. 2 major-college rusher, surely “The Burner” will be accorded some All-America recognition by some major media entities later this month.

CBSSportsLine.com already listed the six-foot, 223-pounder as a “Player to Watch in 2003” and added “...he should make an impressive climb near the top of the Mid-American Conference all-time rushing list....if he repeats the 1,915 yards he had this year, he’ll become only the second back in MAC history with 5,000 yards...”

“The honors that Michael has started to receive are well-deserved,” Novak added. “This past season was as good a rushing performance as I’ve been around. And I still say that Michael is a work in progress. He’s only going to get better.”

Of course, the 2003 season would mark the tenth anniversary of Northern Illinois tailback LeShon Johnson who captured the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1-A rushing title with a school-record 1,976 yards, finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy race, and made unanimous First-Team All-America as a senior in 1993.


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