CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Andre is only 4 years old, but one of the Turrentine family’s youngest members already knows where his heart lies.
This isn’t another story about how one of Ohio State’s standout commits has known from a young age that he was destined for a life in football and how he always dreamed of playing in the NFL.
Though that is part of it.
After all, there he was as a preschooler, hauling a football in his backpack every day he went anywhere – the school, the playground, you name it. And there he was as a 6-year-old kindergartener, preparing for his Tennessee youth league games for the Franklin Cowboys.
Those were the games where he would run for 200 yards and put up 40 points on the board by himself. The first time he ever touched the ball in a game, he ran for a touchdown. The second season he ever played, he remembers being the only kid on his team who scored.
Those, as they say, were the days.
“Oh my God, yes. I remember that,” Turrentine says, flashing a big grin harkening back to those years as his mom, Jajuan, pulls out her phone to show YouTube highlights of Andre in a big ole No. 79 blue-and-white jersey as he torpedoes up the right sideline for a touchdown.
“Here you go! Here you go! Here you go!” Jajuan yells. “They ain’t touch him! They ain’t touch him! They ain’t touch him!”
“You didn’t think about what was gonna happen if you lose,” Turrentine says. “You were just out there to have fun. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, what are people gonna say when I go back to school?’ Who’s gonna walk up to me and be like, ‘What happened?’ There was no pressure. I’m with my family and my friends, out there just playing. That all went by so fast.”
Not as fast as the young Cowboy. Here’s another touchdown run.
“Here he go again! Here he go again! Here he go again!” Jajuan shouts. “Look how little he was. They couldn’t touch him.”
He misses those days, the ones where he would be so locked in hours before games and practices that he would strap all of his pads on, stick on his helmet and go sit in the car seat – in full uniform – waiting for mom and dad, Antonio Sr., to get the keys and chauffeur him to the field.
Oh, and we can’t forget about the mouthpiece destruction, just another sign that he was always itching to get between the lines.
“He was always aggressive and would always compete,” Antonio Sr. says. “His mom had to buy him a bag of mouthpieces because he would chew ‘em up before his games. He’s always been like that.”
And he was always ready.
Even though those days are long gone, that focus remains just as key to him playing the sport as the ball itself.
It’s that focus, preparedness and attention to detail that have Turrentine set up for success. Those traits are what allow him to make up for some limitations – he’s fast, but he’s not the fastest and at 6-foot, 175 pounds is not physically imposing – and have the opportunity to build himself into one of Ohio State’s next star players in the secondary. It’s clear to see in his words and his actions.
When Roc Batten first took the head coaching job at Ensworth in April of 2019, the first player who came into his office to break down film was Turrentine, fully equipped with a list of questions and an already-strong understanding of the Xs and Os. Batten was wildly impressed with Turrentine’s physical traits he had already seen on film – the aggressiveness, adept open-field tackling, how he covered passing routes. But then to see him feverishly study his opponents and grasp the game’s nuances, that’s when Batten was sold.
That offseason grind led to a breakout junior season, which helped back up a standout spring and summer on the camp circuit and put him squarely on the map as one of the best defensive backs in America (he’s currently ranked as the No. 5 safety in the country in the 2021 class, and he shot up from No. 232 overall prior to that season to No. 139 today).
“Just how much the game slowed down,” he says when prompted what he noticed was different about himself in that jump from his sophomore season to his junior season. “Sophomore year, obviously I made plays, but the game was moving so fast. Junior year, I started getting more control of the game, and things started to slow down. I started to see sets and started to see things teams like to do. Just really started to learn the game a lot more. So just my progression over the years, started learning from people older than me but who had been in the same position I was.
“Just realizing how much the game slows down when you play with your head and just focus on the smaller details – the sets that they’re in, the formation that they’re in, the plays that you get out of that formation, the down and distance. … Obviously, I’m a smaller player, but (Batten) has taught me the smaller things that I normally wouldn’t think about, like leverage. Not even leverage on covering. Leverage when I’m coming down to tackle.”
And what about…
That’s where the interview gets put on brief pause. We’re standing on the track surrounding Baylor School’s football field, a long conversation taking place even after Turrentine’s Ensworth Tigers dropped a 30-28 heartbreaker in the final minutes. But one of Baylor’s assistant coaches makes his way across the field to holler something to him.
“Hey, No. 2. You were the best player on the field tonight, man. Your future’s very bright. Coach Coombs is getting a good one, I can promise you that.”
And that’s when the conversation flips to the future.
Spoke with Ohio State DB commit Andre Turrentine (@KingATIII) and his parents for 30+ minutes tonight. Talked about football, life and memories playing the game.— Zack Carpenter (@Zack_Carp) September 19, 2020
Incredibly bright, passionate and level-headed. Buckeyes have a future star in the secondary down here in Tennessee. pic.twitter.com/atKV90zVdN
We’ve talked about his past aplenty, and that was important. In order to get a more clear picture of who Turrentine has been and where his ceiling is, it was fundamental to get those background details. But it’s no longer about where he’s been, it’s about where he’s going.
Where he’s going is the school that can best fulfill that dream of becoming an NFL player. It’s Ohio State, after all, the same program that housed the player Turrentine has been compared to (Vonn Bell) before ushering him off to the league.
It’s in Columbus where he will be taught by Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes, two coaches who believe they’ll be able to use Turrentine in a multitude of ways, beginning at cover safety, which Turrentine says is the same label as a slot cornerback, but the doors are wide open.
“Coach Coombs says I can play all over the place, but me and Coach Barnes talk a lot,” Turrentine said. “We go through the coverages and go through a lot of things together. I think I’m gonna be playing cover safety there and (free) safety. I think that’ll be better for me to see the whole defense and see the whole offense. I think that’ll bring out the best qualities in me as a player. They’ve communicated that to me as well. I don’t know where I’m gonna be up there. I’m gonna do whatever I can to get on the field, obviously, but I think I’ll be playing cover safety and (free) safety. If there’s an opportunity for me to play corner, I’ll play whatever I need to play to help the team out.”
When Ryan Day first got the opportunity to talk about Kourt Williams in December, he didn’t mince words, saying he would be “surprised” if Williams does not wind up as a captain during his Buckeye career. We then got to meet and speak with Williams a few weeks later at the All-American Bowl, and it was pretty clear to see why he garnered that praise from Day.
While Williams is certainly more on the quieter side than Turrentine, the Tennessee senior still exuded some of the same qualities and the same type of introspection. That was clear throughout the conversation with Turrentine, but none more so than when he spoke about the day when he finally arrives at Ohio State.
“I’m excited to get back in that role where I’m a dog trying to fight up to the top,” Turrentine says. “Yeah, it feels great to be the guy and have everyone look up to you. But there’s something about being in that grind. There’s something about being at the bottom, it just allows you to show who you are as a person. You find a grit in yourself and find resiliency. This year is just all about finishing up here. Ensworth was a big step for me, coming from public school and middle school. Getting here is all about people playing with their brains and just schematics more than public school. I think it’s gonna help me a lot when it comes to college. It’s just fun. I’m gonna miss this all when I’m gone. I’m gonna play every play like it’s my last.
“I’ve obviously been around those guys who were in the limelight, those guys who were at the top. Those guys that get in that position get complacent and just think I can take this year off, I can just try to not get myself hurt. But that’s how you get hurt. That’s how you regress as a player. That’s how you become not ready. That’s how you get into college and you’ll get smacked in the mouth. You’re at the bottom of the barrel and you get smacked in the mouth, and now you’re trying to scratch and claw to find out who you are and you don’t know who you are yet. And it’s just hard with all those guys being better than you and being more physical and faster than you, and you know you’re that guy who could always do what you want. I’m just preparing myself for it.”
He’s not completely ready for Ohio State just yet. But he’s getting there, and he says he’ll be fully prepared when that day comes.
That would be no different than when he was a 6-year-old. Only without donning the shoulder pads and helmet on the car rides to practice this time around. Most likely.