Calvin Turner, a defensive tackle on West Virginia’s 1981 Peach Bowl team, has died, according to Director of Athletics Oliver Luck.
Turner starred at Fairmont Senior High for coach Bob Delorenzo, earning all-state honors, before joining a Mountaineer recruiting class in 1978 that included Luck and College Football Hall of Famer Darryl Talley. Turner, Talley and John Garcia were part of West Virginia’s linebacker class that year, Talley recalled.
“Me, I was a little skinny, wiry kid and Garcia was probably the one who was most ready to play out of the three of us,” said Talley.
Eventually, Turner became too big to remain at linebacker and was moved down to the defensive line when Don Nehlen came to Morgantown in 1980.
“He was as strong as a bull, unbelievably strong, and he wasn’t that strong in the weight room,” Talley remarked. “He was just country strong.”
“He was a good player,” added Nehlen. “We didn’t have many; we only had about 10 major college football players back then, and most of them were Division II, but Calvin was one of the good ones.”
Turner’s most productive season came in 1980 when he recorded 59 tackles, including 44 solo stops, to go along with four tackles for a loss. During his senior season in 1981 Turner accumulated 42 tackles, four tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks to help the Mountaineers to a 9-3 record and an upset victory over Florida in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
Turner was among the group of players who helped turn Mountaineer football into the winning program fans enjoy today.
“Calvin was a huge part of it,” Talley said. “It was the class of ’78 and ’79 that really got things going here.”
Whenever Talley thinks of Turner he says there is one play that always sticks out in his mind. It came in 1979 at the old stadium when West Virginia was playing nationally ranked Pitt. Turner made a great play to get between Panther All-Americans Mark May and Russ Grimm to nail tailback Rooster Jones behind the line of scrimmage for a big loss.
Talley said Turner celebrated the play like he had just won the Super Bowl while May and Grimm just stood there and glared at him before May picked up Jones and helped him back to the huddle.
“(May) said, ‘Ok, that’s all right. We’ll be back. Don’t worry.’ Well, they just put Calvin’s ass on skates the very next play,” Talley laughed.
After college, Turner signed a free agent contract with the Denver Broncos but was cut during training camp. He signed with the Denver Gold of the United States Football League (USFL) and played three seasons with the Gold until the league folded.
His best year came in 1983 when was named to the USFL all-star team as a defensive end. During his three seasons in Denver, Turner established a franchise record with 27 ½ sacks.
“He was a great pass rusher,” Talley said.
Turner later appeared in three games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 1987 season when the regular NFL players went on strike, making three sacks in the team’s final strike game against Minnesota before the regular players returned.
Turner never played in the NFL again after that.
Talley said he lost track of his former Mountaineer teammate after they left Morgantown.
“He was a heck of a teammate,” Talley noted. “You couldn’t ask for a better teammate. If you ask him to do something he wouldn’t even ask you why, he would just go ahead and do it. He didn’t care what it was, he just did it.”
Turner was 52.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.