“Most explosive player in the MAC.”

—Lindy’s Big Ten

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September 26, 2003

Stopping Northern Illinois' Michael Turner could be a spicy task for Iowa State.

By ANDREW LOGUE/Register Staff Writer

Ames, Ia. - It's a little taste of Heisman Trophy hype, sealed in a bottle.

The label for this new brand of hot sauce shows Michael "The Burner" Turner, Northern Illinois' running back and Heisman hopeful, blazing a trail across the front. Government required nutrition facts are listed on the back.

All that's missing is a warning: Defensive coordinators may experience indigestion, upset stomach or night sweats.

When Northern Illinois officials began touting Turner for college sports' most prestigious award, they went searching for a low-cost marketing tool. Lee Wayne Promotions, in Sterling, Ill., created a low-calorie concoction that brought a smile to the face of assistant athletic director Mike Korcek, and tears to the eyes of anyone who swallowed a spoonful.

But this mixture of seasonings and salesmanship is not for everybody.

"I think our sports information director makes it in his basement," Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said. "I'm afraid to try it."

Members of Iowa State's football team said they wouldn't feel like tackling anything spicy until Saturday, when the Cyclones visit the 20th-ranked Huskies in DeKalb, Ill.

They didn't want to take a chance on ruining their appetites before digging in against Turner, who ranks 10th in the nation with 126.7 rushing yards a game.

"I'll pass on Turner The Burner," Iowa State defensive tackle Jordan Carstens said after reading the ingredients. "Whatever they want to do to get his name out there; more power to them."

A store in DeKalb was selling "Turner The Burner" for $5, but supplies disappeared quickly.

Korcek sent free samples of the sauce to ESPN and a few major newspapers.

"When you're a mid-major (university), you have to try some different things," Korcek said. "We've kind of been passing it out to key people."

Turner, a 5-foot 10-inch, 230-pound senior, is savoring every moment of this season. But he's not wasting a drop of his tangy memento.

"I'm just saving the one bottle that I do have," he said. "When I get a couple more, I'll try it."

The sauce didn't appeal to the Cyclones this week.

Safety Marc Timmons hesitated before making a half-hearted promise.

"I'm going to lunch soon," he said. "I might try some then."

Defensive end Jason Berryman was skeptical: "I'm from Houston, Texas. I like my hot sauce hot. There's never been hot sauce that I couldn't take."

So why not try it?

"I don't know," Berryman said after a pause. "It might slow me down."

Product endorsements and catchy slogans may not be enough to make Turner a serious Heisman challenger.

His name does not appear among the players listed on the ESPN.com Heisman Watch, an Internet site where fans can vote.

Alabama's Shaud Williams is the leader, with just over 18 percent of the votes, despite the fact Turner helped Northern Illinois beat the Crimson Tide last week.

Turner ran for 156 yards on 27 carries in the Huskies' 19-16 victory. Williams had 96 yards on 13 rushes for Alabama.

"We just weren't set up to do this nationally," Korcek said. "We don't have a quarter of a million dollars to put a picture of Michael's face in downtown Manhattan. We have to pick our spots."

Even a feature article in USA Today failed to get Turner on the Heisman radar, although Maryland coaches made sure their players read about Turner before facing Northern Illinois on Aug. 28.

Turner ran for 90 yards as the Huskies, a member of the Mid-American Conference, won in overtime, 20-13.

"I know they bought all their kids the paper," Novak said. "I know some people in our conference have already done that, also."

Iowa State coach Dan McCarney has given his team a glowing review of Turner's abilities.

"The first series of the game he's extremely explosive, all the way to the last series of the game," McCarney said. "He just doesn't seem to lose any of that strength or power or explosiveness as the game goes on. No matter how many carries he's had or how many hits he's taken."

Turner's success comes from a blend of timing and tenacity.

"He's definitely a power back," Carstens said. "Once he finds a hole, he's probably going to bust through a few guys who try to arm tackle him."

The Cyclones are confident they can withstand the heat of a fiery ball carrier.

Only one, however, was willing to take a pregame taste test.

Linebacker Nik Moser loosened the cap, tipped his head back and took a couple gulps.

The combination of vinegar, Tabasco and habanero peppers left Moser momentarily stunned.

"It's spicy. It's an eye-waterer," Moser said. "If he plays like that, it's going to be a tough game."


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