Ten months removed from the hype of the Peach Bowl, in front of an emptying stadium as a blowout took hold, Christian Turner finally scored.
He emerged from the pile, a grin visible from inside his helmet and briefly celebrated before jogging back to the sideline as Michigan’s lead over Rutgers grew to 31. He didn’t want to bask in it. Still doesn’t. “Don’t want to make that some spectacular moment I think about for the rest of my life,” Turner said Tuesday evening.
Turner, a sophomore running back, has already experienced the fleeting nature of these things. In Michigan football’s ecosystem — a fan base yearning for the next hit of serotonin and a roster constantly churned by competition — hype doesn’t last long. High praise about practice performance is met with wariness until anybody sees it in a game.
In the run-up to last year’s Peach Bowl, Turner was the subject of that spotlight. He heard it from Jim Harbaugh, from his fellow running backs, from the rest of the offense. “He’s been tearing it up all Christmas camp,” Jon Runyan Jr. said in the days before, echoing general sentiment.
In the game, for a brief moment before everything fell apart, he delivered on it, darting across the formation, taking a handoff, cutting upfield, hugging the boundary, going into the end zone untouched. Then the touchdown got called back on a penalty, and Turner finished the game with 32 yards — less than he would have gotten on that play alone had it stood. As spring approached, conversation turned to a new offense and a new running back, Zach Charbonnet. It stayed there this fall, as Charbonnet racked up 48 carries, even as Turner notched more touches in four weeks (34) than the 21 he did all of last season.
On Tuesday, Turner was put in front of the media and gave a rush of cliches in a low voice. Buried underneath them, a quiet confidence simmered.
“It took some pressure off,” Turner said of his touchdown. “I finally got to the end zone, but now I just want to get comfortable scoring. I don’t want to just get complacent.”
Turner said his pass protection is still developing, a lingering product of the transition to college. He stressed that he didn’t get down last year when he sat nor when he got hurt. He’s staying level now, too, as the Wolverines try to develop a more steady rotation of carries. All the right things.
In high school, Turner’s coach stressed the importance of keeping things steady. Turner was splitting carries with Anthony Grant, now a sophomore at Florida State, and Derrian Brown, a Texas signee in the 2019 class. They had a great backfield, but Turner played a lot less than most three-star recruits who get high-major offers. He kept his coach’s advice in mind last year. It’s not far from his mind now, either.
“You can’t control everything that’s gonna happen to you in your life, but you can control how you react to it and how you respond to it,” Turner said. “That’s the R factor.”
Still, when he got to Michigan, Turner got caught trying to run straight forward. Asked Tuesday about what he carried into this year from those bowl practices in December, Turner mentioned complacency twice. “Or just thinking I’m already there when I hadn’t really done anything yet,” he said.
To be clear, he knew there would be a learning curve, and still acknowledges that there’s aways to go. Last year, Karan Higdon told him to be patient. Turner brought it up in the context of running the ball and waiting for a hole to open up. It was hard not to see a bigger picture coming into focus.
“I was just trying to outrun everybody,” Turner said. “He was the one that told me, if you keep trying to do that, you’re gonna get hit pretty hard.”
On Saturday, instead of going down when he got hit, Turner moved the pile and crossed the ball over the plane.