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Kyle Turley is a passionate guy.
Whether he’s defending a teammate, standing up for what he believes is right or voicing his opinion about a coach leaving his alma mater, Turley does it with full conviction.
The former first-round draft pick and NFL All-Pro is out of professional football at age 36, but he still has plenty of things on his plate. He is a family man, a record company executive, a musician, a champion of causes for former NFL players and is very active in trying to educate as many people as possible – especially young football players and their parents - about concussions and their consequences.
Thankfully for us at 247Sports, football is still in his blood, too. Turley and some other former NFL greats like Chris Doleman have agreed to analyze film of high school prospects and give their takes on the players’ strengths, weaknesses and overall potential.
Today, we’ll tell you a bit more about Turley and give you his takes on several topics.
An under-the-radar prospect
Obviously, one doesn’t have to be a five-star prospect to have a long NFL career. However, even if he were playing high school football today, Turley likely would have been listed as a diamond-in-the-rough-type prospect according to sites like 247Sports. He wasn’t on the camp and combine circuit. He didn’t have a DVD with cut-ups or a highlight reel on YouTube. He was a surfer and a skateboarder who decided to give his dream a shot very late in the process.
“I only played one year of high school football,” Turley said. “I decided the spring before my senior year that I was going to play. My coach, Leo Brouhard – God rest his soul – sat me down and had me fill out a recruiting form for almost every college in the country. At the time, I was about 180 pounds and could bench about 190. He told me to write that I was 220 pounds and could bench 225. He said, ‘By the time they show up, that’s what you’re gonna do.’ “
Brouhard had a good track record of sending players to college, but Turley had to do his part.
“I busted my butt in the weight room that spring and summer. They put me on defense and said, ‘Just go to the football and play as aggressive as possible.’ When the colleges showed up, I was everything they thought I was going to be – on paper.“
Turley ended up with offers to take five official visits – to Iowa State, Fresno State, San Diego State, New Mexico and either Kansas or Kansas State (he doesn’t remember which). He visited the Cyclones, Bulldogs and committed after his trip to see the Aztecs. He never went to New Mexico or Kansas.
After a redshirt year and a coaching change, Turley was given the choice of playing offensive line or defensive line. One of the coaches on Ted Tollner’s new SDSU staff was Ed White, who played in the NFL for 17 seasons and went to four Super Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings. That was all Turley needed to know.
“I loved defensive end, that’s where I wanted to play. Howie Long was my idol,” Turley said. “But I wanted to make it to the NFL more than anything, so I chose to move to offensive line and work with Ed White. I knew I would learn valuable things from him, and the rest is history.”
Bitten by the injury bug
Turley was relatively injury free in college and his early years in the NFL. Following the 2003 NFL season, he had surgery to repair a disc in his back. When training camp began in August for the 2004 season, Turley thought he was ready to return. He wasn’t.
“I went to the coaches and trainers after that first day of camp and told them I didn’t feel right,” Turley recalled. “I told them it didn’t feel like I was ready. I thought I was gonna be, but when you get to collision time and you have Leonard Little coming full-tilt at you on his bull rush … You set your feet and that disc gets tested again and again when it shouldn’t have been.”
His talk with the coaches and trainers didn’t exactly go the way Turley hoped.
“I told them I needed more time, and they told me to trust the surgery. I was a coachable guy and I was always there to do what I was told, so I went back out there. Sure enough, in practice two days later I blew it out – again.”
This wasn’t the only time in his career when Turley hoped medical personnel would have intervened on his behalf. Turley took a knee to the head in a game in 2003 and was knocked unconscious. Turley said he had a Grade3 concussion, and spent two days in the hospital. However, two days after being released from the hospital he was back at practice – with full contact.
“The saying is, ‘You’re either hurt or you’re injured,’” Turley said. “The doctors asked me how I felt, and I said, ‘My head still hurts pretty bad, but I’m feeling better.’ When the doctors leave the decision up to the player, they are going to really want to play. These guys are doctors. They’re supposed to be telling me the right things.”
Turley now knows there are times when he should have made different decisions – whether he was given the proper advice or not.
“I shouldn’t have been playing football for 30 days after that concussion according to what I found out after the fact,” he said. “I was allowed to go back in three days later and play the rest of the season. I don’t know what damage I did from that.”
Champion of causes
Even when he was still an active NFL player, Turley felt a need to act when he saw injustices – especially when they involved other players. There were organizations like Gridiron Greats, Dignity After Football, Fourth and Goal and others that helped support former players who didn’t make millions of dollars like today’s NFL stars. Many former players have difficulty getting insurance, paying for medical procedures or face other serious health consequences because of their life in football. The organizations are generally run or affiliated with former greats who try to help their less fortunate contemporaries. Turley was one of the first – if not the first - active players to champion the cause of those who came before him.
“I couldn’t sit by and do nothing,” Turley said. “I knew there needed to be an active player in the retired player fight. I decided to donate a game check, $25,000. It wasn’t as much as I would have liked, but it was more of a symbolic gesture, really. I saw what happened with me, where I went from the top to the bottom just like that (snaps fingers).
“I was a union representative when I played, and I tried to learn about what was going on and pass resolutions, but they weren’t interested in that. It was solely a money-making business. Now, an active player was involved and that helped draw attention to it.”
Turley is very proud to also be affiliated with Chris Nowinski and the folks at the Sports Legacy Institute (http://www.sportslegacy.org). Nowinski, a former Harvard football player and professional wrestler, and co-founder Dr. Robert Cantu have partnered with the Boston University School of Medicine to study the long-term effects of brain trauma in sports.
The folks at the Sports Legacy Institute have studied the brains of several former athletes like wrestler Chris Beniot, boxer Greg Page, hockey players Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard and former NFL players John Mackey, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters. Their work has allowed them to research a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which according to their Internet site is: “… a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma, which includes multiple concussions, triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last concussion or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, paranoia, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.”
Turley has agreed to donate his brain to the cause, and has helped persuade other athletes to do the same. Turley is worried that because of his past concussions - and the constant collisions he sustained during his playing days- that he may end up with suffering the effects of CTE at an early age.
“There’s not much I wouldn’t do to not have to take the medication I have to take nowadays and deal with the things I have to deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s not fun. The future isn’t looking too bright.”
Turley has a 3-year-old son named Dean. When asked if Turley would let his son play football, he hesitated a bit.
“With the evidence that’s out there, I would not want my son to play full-contact football until he’s a sophomore in high school,” Turley said. “There are things I know now about the development of the brain where I wouldn’t want him to play until he was 14, 15, 16.”
That said, Turley would play football again if he could turn back time.
“I would most likely play football again because it was a dream of mine that I had as a young kid – to play in the NFL,” Turley said. “Actually, I’d still be playing football today and would have had two more contracts, probably. I would have rehabilitated my back injury properly. I wouldn’t have been pushed and prodded to get back in there.
“If you see stars or your eyes cross after a hit or if you get your ‘bell rung,’ you need to come out of the game. It is very important that kids come out of the game. It’s not worth it in the long run.”
Given his history with the Saints and the fallout he’s dealing with after suffering multiple concussions and career-threatening injuries, I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t ask Turley his take on the “Bounty Gate” surrounding the New Orleans Saints – one of the biggest NFL stories of the year. As one would expect, Turley was outspoken on the issue.
“For that to have gone on is more than offensive to me and all the guys that came before us that stressed the importance of players taking care of one another,“ he said. “The NFL isn’t going to do it. The union isn’t going to do it. It’s solely on the players to be conscious of their health and safety.”
When asked if the punishment fit the crime, Turley said he felt the punishments were harsh but needed to be harsh.
“With the punishments handed down, I can’t conceive that a coach or player would participate in something like that ever again,” he said. “If the punishments weren’t as severe, you’re gonna have another person try it. This is something that has to be eliminated. I was on three different teams and never once saw or heard anybody sitting around talking about taking another player out for a sum of money.
“I don’t want it to seem like I’m anti-football, because I’m not. If I had the opportunity to do things over again I would do a lot of things different, which is why I want to get involved with a company like 247Sports – to help give kids the proper knowledge and help protect themselves and their futures. It is just important to be educated about the risks – especially concussions.”
The music man
When Turley isn’t crusading for causes, he’s likely to be playing some licks on his guitar, banging some drums or scouting talent – musical talent.
Turley was born in Utah, and also lived in Washington State until moving to Southern California when he was 10. He remembers his mother liking bands like the Eagles, and Turley’s father was a farmer and a truck driver who liked old-school country.
Turley said he got his first guitar when he was about 14, and always knew he wanted to be involved in the music industry someday. He would jam with other players while in the NFL, and eventually played in other bands until he and friend Tim Pickett started their own record company, Gridiron Records (http://www.gridironrecords.com), in 2006.
“Music has always been there, it’s something I’ve always had as a release – like surfing,” Turley said. “I knew that I wanted music to be a part of my life forever, I just never knew where it was gonna go. I repped a couple indie rock bands and tried to make a go of it. We blew a bunch of money trying to break a band and ended up learning some good lessons – like what not to do,” Turley said with a laugh.
The Kyle Turley Band is on the Gridiron label, along with acts like The Hairbrain Scheme, Invitro and Unset. Turley and his band, who play what Turley describes as “Power Country,” have played with artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Allan Coe and Hank III despite being on his own indie label.
“I’ve been able to build a good name to now where it’s all paying for itself,” Turley said.