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realizes, “I battled with a lot of anger, and sometimes I still do. It’s because I got love from people outside of my home instead of in it where it should have came from.” Once he entered middle school at J.R. Trippe, Damian was waking up, and more frequently than not, coming to school just to be in ISS. “It was like prison. That’s literally what it felt like,” Damian said. Eventually, he was placed in Special Education courses because he consistently disrupted classes. Teachers and school administrators tried everything to get through to Damian—alternative school, a potential boy’s home, and even a visit to the Reidsville State Prison asking, “Is this where you want to end up?” It wasn’t until high school that Damian met the people who would redirect him towards his untapped ability. “What really changed me was one day in the hallway, Mr. Watkins came over to me and said, ‘I bet you a steak dinner you can’t go a semester without getting written up,’ and that was my turning point. Coming from the projects, I’d never even had a steak dinner.” As a sixteen-year-old sophomore, Damian got involved in playing sports, most notably, wrestling and football. Growing up without a father, Damian wasn’t used to supportive male role models, but now he had several coaches who became like fathers to him. “There are people like Mr. Sharpe, Mr. Watkins, Coach Proctor, Coach Fritz, and Steve Fullam—I will forever highlight them. I spent numerous times with Mr. McBride and Coach Gardener too. A lot of those guys played a tremendous role in my life.” As Damian began learning from coaches, his natural abilities revealed a standout athlete. “I remember coach Fullam used to drop me off and make sure I got home after football practice. One day, I told him, ‘Coach…I want to play football— college football.’” His dream drew a stark comparison between what most expected from Damian and what he could actually achieve. Even for the best student athletes, college ball could be a challenging dream, but Damian wanted it deeply. “I’m a dreamer, and I always envisioned a better life,” Damian said. “It just took some time, because I was fighting against the odds.” His senior year in 2003, Vidalia’s football team had a very successful year, landing them in their first trip to the Georgia Dome. An all-region player, Damian fought hard against the Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans in the semi-finals. The Indians were in double overtime and needed a breakthrough play. Mr. Sharpe remembers, “It was the biggest pass in Vidalia High School history.” Quarterback Josh Sasser threw a Hail Mary pass deep into the end zone. Both teams held their breath as the ball soared into Damian’s hands. Once again, everyone was talking about Damian Turner—not the troublesome kid, but the star athlete. Damian set his heart on going to college and then the NFL. One day, he’d make enough money to take care of his family and prove to his mom, his teachers, and everyone else that he would not be another troubled youth statistic. “At that time, I didn’t even know how hard it was to even get into a school,” Damian said. “I was playing catch-up with life.” Damian collected his football game films, converted them to DVDs in the school library, and contacted colleges all around the country. “I only really got one good look, and it was from Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts.” They offered a scholarship, which Damian desperately needed, but it wasn’t enough to cover all his schooling. Eventually, he found a college that was willing to financially work with him and help with his housing up in Rock Valley, Illinois. Playing football at a junior college wasn’t ideal, but it was the closest step to his dream, so he took it. Before he left for college, familial tensions were especially high for Damian. “My mom was on me so tough that for three years we didn’t even talk.” With student aid and loans, Damian was able to pay for his first two years’ tuition. January 4th, 2005, Coach Fullam dropped Damian off at the airport. He had dropped Damian off many days after football practice, but this time he didn’t know where life was taking Damian. With just his clothes and $100 in his pocket, Damian headed to Rock Valley, Illinois alone. Coach Proctor remembers, “One time, Damian called me because he hadn’t eaten anything in two days except for crackers and ketchup he got from the student union. He had no food and was still having to go to football practice.” To ease his hardship, Coach Proctor would send care packages of essentials for Damian, but he was on his own. After two years at Rock Valley, Damian’s hard work paid off when Minnesota State, noticing his talent, gave him a full scholarship to play for the Mavericks. His junior year he got several looks from scouts for the NFL, but no official bites. Damian was unrelenting and did everything he could, using his energy and efforts to propel his dream. During his time at Minnesota State, a photographer friend named Wally noticed something special about Damian. “He said I had a great look, and I should model. I just laughed it off because I wanted to play football. That was the whole journey when I left Vidalia.” After finishing up his last two years of undergrad, Damian earned a degree in Speech Communications with a minor in Sociology. No one would have ever believed he’d graduate 112 Toombs County Magazine


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