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The Eagles and coach Jack Turner are determined to snap a 39-game winless streak.
MICHAEL SHROYER | Special to The Roanoke Times
Auburn High School head coach Jack Turner delivers instructions during preseason practice in Riner.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
RINER — Those who quiz Jack Turner on his predictions for the future of the struggling Auburn High School football program are likely to draw a terse response.
“If I could predict how many games we were going to win this year, then I would have already won the Pick 6 and I wouldn’t be here,” the Eagles coach said the other day.
Maybe even if he had hit it big in the lottery he’d still be here. The second-year coach is the finish-what-you-start kind of guy. Furthermore, if there’s anything he likes to do more than coach high school football, he doesn’t talk about it much.
In any event, pulling Auburn football out of the deep ditch it’s in is not a job for a guy whose heart isn’t in it. Since a three-point victory over Craig County the opening game of the 2009 season, the Eagles have not won or tied another game. By the end of the 2012 season, Turner’s first here, the streak of misery had grown to 39 games.
Not that the Eagles haven’t made progress.
“It’s all confidence,” sophomore Ethan Crockett said. “We could have beat a lot of teams last year. It’s all about our confidence. When we get our confidence where it should be and win that first game, then we can win a thousand games.”
Truth be told, the closest the Eagles came in 2012 was a 15-point spread. The point is, though, that players are starting to believe. In the years immediately preceding Turner’s arrival from his last post as an assistant coach at Franklin County, Auburn football was running on fumes and leaking oil as it limped along. Players were transferring, dropping out, or never coming out to begin with. Faith in the future was not apparent if there was any at all.
So like his coach, Crockett wasn’t going to be prodded into the prediction business. That didn’t mean the coach is not seeing growth and development in the program.
“I can tell you this,” he said. “These guys are going to look a heck of a lot better in their uniforms this year.”
An offseason devoted to vigorous weight training patterned upon what Turner grew up with as a player then a coach at Pulaski County has definitely had tangible right-before-your-eyes benefits at Auburn.
“It’s been a total change, sir,” said 6-foot-2, 254-pound junior offensive guard Josh Fleenor. “Organization, weightlifting — I mean, you could name anything. Coach Turner is preparing us to win and I wouldn’t expect anything less, sir.”
If that victory is coming this year, the likely spot is sooner rather than later. The first three opponents — Narrows, Craig County and Roanoke Catholic — were a combined 8-22 in 2012. Those three are followed by games against Montcalm, W.Va., and Parry McCluer. After that comes the part of the season when Auburn traditionally has had the worst time, the Three Rivers District schedule that includes heavyweights Giles, Radford, Floyd County and Glenvar.
The preseason has been brisk. Before that, offseason work was voluntary but those who chose not to attend were volunteering to sit in the grandstands this fall and not be on the field.
“You don’t lift, you don’t play,” said Turner, capsulizing the policy he’s had ever since he’s coached.
No question, the offseason weight room at Auburn has had no room for the uncommitted.
“When the linemen are lifting, we are doing quick circuit lifting, which is very fast-paced,” said senior tackle Michael Hinkley, the leading Eagles lineman. “It’s definitely put us in better shape than we’ve ever been before.”
The 6-4, 294-pound Hinkley is the kind of player teammates tend to rally around.
“A freak of nature,” Fleenor said. “Strong, powerful — anything you could ask for in an offensive lineman.”
Auburn also returns a veteran quarterback in Gabe Spencer among other experienced players. Spencer brings up another source of optimism. He was a key player on an Auburn baseball team that won 17 games this past spring and made it all the way to the Division 1 semifinals, the best finish ever for an Eagles nine. Auburn also fell just one two-point loss short of qualifying for the state tournament in basketball last winter.
Turner is quick to point those facts out as he discusses an upsurge in winning attitude at Auburn. Unlike other coaches who preach the modern doctrine of athletic specialization, Turner likes to see guys playing multiple sports. Also contrary to common practice in some football circles, he believes in going light on offseason football specific workouts other than weightlifting.
“Our weight program is hard enough,” he said.
When Turner took over last year, much work went into installing the wing-T offense. In the seasons immediately preceding last year, Auburn ran a lot of different offensive sets in vain attempts to find something that worked. Last year, the wing-T was new to the veteran players.
“Team members this year know the formations, we know the expectations,” Crockett said.
“Since everybody knows the plays, most of them, and we’re aware of the expectations, it’s been 100 percent better than a year ago. Last year, Coach Turner taught us the basics. This year, we’re adding on to it.”
About those expectations …
“I’m not the easiest guy to play for,” Turner said. “We’re going to get rougher and tougher and more physical. That’s what we’re working toward.”
That and that first win. Just don’t ask anybody when that might come.
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