Bill Cronin hadn't seen Silvester Turner in 15 years, but he recognized him the moment Turner walked into his office last April. "He had that big grin on his face," Cronin says. "I knew exactly who he was." Turner had come to tell Cronin that he wanted to play college football again. Cronin was amused—a comeback at age 34?—but not nonplussed. After all, during his 13 years as a coach at Georgetown (Ky.) College, the last two as head coach, about 75 former players with remaining eligibility have asked about the possibility of coming back. A handful have followed through. But as Cronin told Turner what he would have to do to regain his eligibility, the coach sensed that this might be one comeback kid who was going places. "He had that gleam in his eye," Cronin says.
Last Saturday, Turner started his fourth game of the season at cornerback for Georgetown, an NAIA school located 12 miles north of Lexington. The eighth-ranked Tigers improved to 5-0 with a 43-17 win over Belhaven College. The 6'1", 190-pound Turner may be the only college football player whose position coach is seven years his junior, but he's proving he can hold his own with the MTV set. He's sixth on the team in tackles (with 19), third in interceptions (two) and first in self-pinches (743). "Sometimes I ask him how he's doing, and he just laughs," says defensive coordinator Dave Campbell, who was a freshman teammate of Turner's at Georgetown 16 years ago. "He's so happy, he can't even put it into words."
As a reed-thin freshman in the fall of '82, Turner lacked the diligence to succeed academically. He ended up dropping out of school to work at Gulf States Paper Corp. in Nicholasville, Ky., Turner's hometown.
It took 11 years of working in that factory before Turner decided it was finally quittin' time. He called his supervisor while he was on vacation with his girlfriend, Susan Etling, and their two children, Devin, now 5, and Dominique, 3. "I knew if I went back into that factory, somebody was going to talk me out of quitting," Turner says.
Turner enrolled at Kentucky in the fall of 1995. The following autumn he started working part time as a supervisor at the university's Seaton Center, an athletic complex where, during his daily workouts, Turner was often mistaken for a varsity athlete. One day in the spring of '97 he read a newspaper article that explained the NAIA's rules which allowed an athlete 10 semesters, with no time limit, to complete four years of eligibility. He decided to give it the old small-college try at Georgetown. "I'm the type who's not complacent with just one thing happening in my life," he says.
Turner filled out the requisite transfer and financial aid forms and reported for practice the first week of August. When he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, the coaches were so stunned that they asked him to run it two more times. Just minutes after he entered Georgetown's season opener, against Iowa Wesleyan, Turner returned an interception for 28 yards. He has started each of the Tigers' games since.
To qualify to play football one more season, Turner has decided to continue his studies at Kentucky next spring and then transfer back to Georgetown in the fall of '99. He plans to marry Etling and start his teaching career, but first he wants to take a shot at playing in the NFL. The notion of making such a leap at age 35 seems preposterous, but Cronin thinks that some teams may invite Turner to camp on the basis of his speed alone.
Don't forget that gleam in his eye. "Nothing's impossible," Turner says. "If I get my skills sharpened, and if someone wants to give me a look, I think I could get out there with those young guys."