How a whirlwind 48 hours landed RB Xavier Turner with the Seahawks
He wasn’t a player Seahawks fans were waiting to see – like 6-foot-3 rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf, who drew loud cheers with his first reception and was tracked by the broadcast through most of the first quarter of Seattle’s preseason opener against Denver.
Nor was he a player who found himself surrounded by reporters after Seattle’s win – those moments were reserved for wide receiver Jazz Ferguson, who was 4 for 4 on targets with 54 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Paxton Lynch, who spoke at the podium for a postgame press conference after leading the way in a victory over his former team.
But Xavier Turner, perhaps more than any other player Thursday, personified the battle of young, undrafted players working to earn a role with an NFL team.
Fans bemoan preseason contests. And player injuries – like the ankle sprain suffered by Seahawks tackle George Fant – rightfully cause concern about the need for exhibition games. But between all of that is an opportunity for a player like Turner, a 5-foot-10, 225-pound undrafted rookie running back out of Tarleton State who signed with the Seahawks just 24 hours ahead of Thursday’s preseason opener after injuries to C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic and Travis Homer. By the end of the night Turner was the team’s leading rusher with 42 yards on 13 carries.
“We ran the ball a lot,” head coach Pete Carroll said postgame. “There is a guy by the name of Xavier Turner that we will introduce you guys to. I just introduced him to the team just tonight after the game. He did a great job tonight. (Running backs coach) Chad Morton coached him up during the game. I don’t know if you saw the quarterbacks coached him up. He just got here yesterday. He did a fine job to help us out when we needed some help.”
The last 48 hours have been a whirlwind for Turner, a Texas native who got a call from Seattle while boarding a plane for Austin, Texas.
“I was with the Arizona Cardinals for two months, got released,” Turner said. “And then shot out to Clevelend, and from Cleveland went to Green Bay. And then as I’m boarding a plane – bags are under the plane and everything – the Seahawks call and say, ‘Can you get off the plane and come here?’”
Turner had never heard from the Seahawks before, but he wasn’t going to shy away from the opportunity. So he agreed, and the Seahawks booked him an early flight for the following morning.
Turner’s flight to Austin landed shortly after midnight. He then woke up at 4 a.m. to board a flight to Seattle. He had a workout around noon, and an hour later he received another call from the Seahawks.
Would he be able to play in the team’s preseason opener?
Turner spent the 24 hours leading up the game digging into the playbook.
“It was amazing,” Turner said. “This is what I’ve lived for, and so when (they) gave me the go-ahead I was like, Heck yeah, I’m ready.’”
It’s certainly possible to make a team as an undrafted rookie, but it becomes an even more difficult road for those players out of small schools, and Turner’s path to the NFL has already had its bends and bumps. Turner was a verbal commit to Oklahoma and also received interest from Oregon after a stellar junior season at Birdville High School in North Richland Hills, Texas. But academic eligibility forced him into the junior college route; he spent the 2014 season with Navarro Junior College and turned that into a scholarship with Tarleton State, a Division II university located in Stephenville, Texas.
While at Tarleton State, Turner was part of a three-man running back rotation and fought his way to a starting role. It wasn’t secured for long, though; he suffered a concussion in the first game of his senior season and was sidelined for a week. But after working his way back into the starting role, Turner took off – he rushed for 100 yards or more in seven consecutive games, including two games of 200-plus yards, and was named the team’s offensive MVP after a 2018 season that included one game where he had a passing touchdown, receiving touchdown and rushing touchdown.
When it comes to an ability to roll with the punches and relocation, he credits what he calls a “go-getter” mentality. And now, after spending time with another team’s training camp, trying out for other clubs and getting a last-minute call to fly across the country for a game – albiet one that may not excite all fans – Turner is just trying to soak in the moment.
“It was a blessing,” Turner said. “It’s a dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life and finally got the opportunity.”