By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline's Marcus Turner certainly set a high bar for himself last season.
As a junior, Turner was shifted from his free safety spot to outside linebacker before the second game of the season as the Hawks looked to get another quick, athletic player close to the line of scrimmage. Turner did the job just fine, and still found a bit of time to moonlight as a ball hawker. He picked off two passes. What's more, he returned them both for touchdowns.
Now back at his old free safety spot with even more of a emphasis on his pass defense abilities, Turner is being counted on to provide even more big plays for Skyline this season. Despite his track record of returning picks for touchdowns, no one is expecting Turner to score every time he nabs an errant pass. That doesn't mean he won't attempt it, though.
"I'm going to try," Turner said. "If I get one, I'm going to try to run it as far as I can."
Last season as predominantly an outside linebacker, Turner garnered second-team all-Northwestern District honors after totaling 46 tackles (seven for losses), plus three pass deflections, a fumble recovery and those two pick sixes on his interceptions. Neither was a cheapie -- the first was a 45-yarder on the road against Fauquier in the Hawks' second game of the season. A week later, Turner was at it again with a 43-yard interception return against Brentsville.
Despite those standout plays, Turner considers his game against Kettle Run -- the first of two -- to be his best of the season last year. In that game, Turner tallied four tackles for loss among his 14 total stops.
Turner handled the shift to linebacker without any issues, but he's not unhappy to get back into the secondary this season.
"It's easier to break on the ball and you can see the whole field," Turner said. "At linebacker, the ball's just there before you know it. At free safety, you've got time to look and see where the ball's at and then go up and make a play."
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior has just as much potential on the offensive side. A returning starter at wide receiver, Turner tallied 15 receptions for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year. His biggest play to date on offense came during his sophomore season, as he hauled in a 41-yard touchdown pass.
Skyline coach Heath Gilbert is expecting to see many more of those types of plays from Turner on offense this year, as the Hawks will look to him as a go-to receiver.
"It was tough luck last year," Gilbert said. "Every time we tried to target him or find something for him, it was a penalty a lot of times or just a slight overthrow. Hopefully we can get on track with him much better. I expect him to have a breakout year."
Gilbert said Turner has been putting in the work on the practice field and in the weight room to ensure that happens this year. As a senior, Turner has exemplified the work ethic Gilbert is trying to foster roster-wide this year. Turner is 10 pounds heavier this season, and Gilbert thinks he's every bit as explosive as ever.
"Physically, he's 6-2, 185 pounds, he runs really well," Gilbert said. "So just that development and growth, working in the offseason has benefited him. You can count on him every day. He's going to come out and work every day. It's great to have."
With top pass catchers Kylmen Breeden, Nick Helmick and Dayvon Haight all gone to graduation, Turner is counted on to be a threat all over the field for Skyline this season.
"We're going to ask him to work the middle of the field and get vertical," Gilbert said. "He's going to do all those things."
Turner likes making the highlight reel plays -- who doesn't? -- but he's not averse to getting his jersey muddy performing the less glamorous aspects of the job as a receiver.
"I'll block, and I can catch the ball," Turner said. "I try to catch everything they throw to me and give my best effort doing everything, whether it's blocking or catching the ball or running routes."
Turner also plays basketball at Skyline, but said he prefers the contact football provides during the fall.
His dedication to football runs beyond the daily grind of Skyline's football practices. Turner, who took up the sport starting as an 8-year-old, spends time nearly every day helping coach his younger brother, 8-year-old Zack Diggs, improve on the football field. Turner serves as a coach on Zack's midget-level football team, putting in two hours a day after practice on most weekdays.
"I've got to make him better," Turner said.
As for his own game, Turner is always working to get better and be ready to make the most of his opportunities for the Hawks.
"Wherever they put me, I try to make the play," Turner said.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>