LINCOLN — If there ever was any true indecision from Jamal Turner about his football future, Nebraska assistant coach Keith Williams wouldn’t have known it this week as the senior receiver joined Husker spring practices.
Williams certainly didn’t see any hesitation.
“I’ve had to grab him,” Williams said. “There has been a time where he’s went in and I didn’t even know it. Like, he was sitting next to me, and I turned to look at him and he’s in the huddle.
“So, yeah, those guys that are competitors, they don’t understand patience when you’re coming back from an injury, and that it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
In the case of Turner, it has been injuries — plural.
And enough of them that the offseason brought some soul-searching about whether Turner even wanted to keep going.
Turner said he already was depressed after rupturing his Achilles’ in the Huskers’ second game last season. Then he followed that with arthroscopic knee surgery and more rehab in the winter.
It created his first-ever doubts about football, until some people convinced him that it all might be a blessing in disguise, “and I just kind of went with that.”
“It’s still hard,” he said. “I wake up days and my back hurts, my knee hurts, my Achilles’ hurts, and it’s like: Why am I doing this? But I just think about my team, my coaches, my friends, my family ... and I just keep going.”
Williams, for one, is glad that Turner has come back, and the first-year NU receivers coach said he was excited about adding the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder to his unit.
Turner had watched the Huskers’ eight practices up to spring break before returning to workouts Monday.
“I like him,” Williams said. “I was anxious (to see him), because I know he was a guy that had contributed here already, so obviously he was a player. So I was anxious to see him run around and do some things, and pretty much what I’ve been told about him I have seen.”
Turner also has figured that if he is going to do it, he is going to do it right.
That sometimes requires acknowledging that it’s April and not August, and reminders that it’s not necessary yet to push the gas pedal down too far.
“I feel like I’m 95 percent, but they feel like I’m 75 percent,” Turner said Wednesday. “They’re like, ‘No, don’t do that.’ I’m like, ‘I can do it.’ ”
Turner wants to catch up because he knows it’s a new system and new coaches watching. But he said Williams and the staff have been patient with him, so why risk it?
“We’re slowly just trying to get it back there,” he said. “We don’t want to rush anything. I could probably do a little more but, you know, kind of what’s the point?”
A healthy Turner next season would benefit a position that also features junior Jordan Westerkamp and sophomore De’Mornay Pierson-El. Turner had 64 career receptions for 799 yards and four touchdowns before last season washed out right after it started.
He maybe could have skipped the knee surgery and been ready for spring ball, but it would have left him practicing in pain. Asked if it feels as if he’s had just about everything repaired, Turner said: “I’m like a new man now.”
Williams would take the old one. From film review and a few brief glimpses, he knows Turner is somebody who can catch, change directions, change a game. And understand it.
“Even though he hasn’t practiced, he’s obviously been paying attention in the meetings and out here as he’s watching, because he knows the offense pretty good,” Williams said. “He doesn’t ask a lot of questions that you might get from a guy that hasn’t practiced in two weeks.”
Turner needed to shed about 10 pounds to be ready. Then there was a little matter of finding out — officially, last month — that the NCAA would grant him the medical hardship necessary to be eligible for another season.
Turner had no idea when that would come. Or if it would at first be a denial and require an appeal.
“It came on time, I guess,” he said, smiling. “I was still going to practice this spring.”
It first took some time to come to that conclusion. Turner already has graduated. Already gone from high school quarterback to receiver. Already accumulated the wounds that come with a rough sport.
“There were times where I was like, ‘I just need to start a new chapter in my life — just kind of forget football and work on myself and my family,’ ” he said. “But I love the game so much.”
His return gives NU head coach Mike Riley, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and Williams another offensive tool. A potential return threat. Some valuable experience, too.
“Jamal’s had a lot of adversity, but he’s a tough guy and he’s always came back,” Westerkamp said. “He’s a fantastic athlete. We all wanted him to come back and we’re glad he did, and he’ll definitely help us in the wide receiver room this year, without a doubt.”
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