Turman remembered for thirst to succeed

Twitter and teens generally make for a shallow combination. But in brief bursts, De’Antre Turman wrote his opus before he died.

“i came from nothing just trying to make it to the top,” read the heading on the 16-year-old’s Twitter account. Turman, a Creekside High cornerback, died Aug. 16 making a tackle during a preseason scrimmage and was buried Saturday in the Georgia clay next to his mother.

Hundreds gathered for the funeral at the Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral in Austell on Saturday morning to remember a young man whose crop of facial hair and serious-minded Twitter messages made him seem considerably older than a rising high school junior.

His Creekside High teammates, wearing their jerseys over long-sleeved shirts and ties, entered the church together and two-by-two paused at the casket to bid goodbye to the friend they called Tre Tre. Family and friends passionately shared memories of a fun-loving but determined teen who was trying to find a future in the sport he died playing.

“I’m going to miss my brother, and I know you guys are going to miss him, too,” De’Vonte Turman told the gathering.

Surviving De’Antre also were his own words, hopes and dreams stretched across his Twitter account like fresh-washed laundry on the line. They were the lyrics of an ambition that seemed too focused, too fiery for someone so young.

“Hungry for the success” — July 25.

“Coach told me ima be the Jim Thorpe award winniner (sic)” — July 25 (the Jim Thorpe Award is given annually to the best defensive back in college football).

“Success is in my arm reach I can see it right there” — July 16.

“They ask me Tre Tre what is your motivation I look them dead in the eyes and tell ’em the struggle motivates me” — July 16.

Dr. Frank Jones, a family friend and one of Turman’s former youth coaches, had seen those posts and was moved. “It struck me he didn’t realize how successful he already was,” Jones said late last week. “With the odds against him he was a popular kid who excelled on the field and was making it in the classroom.”

In 2002, Turman’s mother died of complications from sickle-cell disease. By the time Turman was in fifth grade, his father passed legal guardianship of the boy on to a couple who had known the Turman family for years. “I wanted to get him out of the neighborhood and get him into a better situation,” De’Antre’s father, James Turman, said Thursday.

In football, Turman found a vessel for all those vague and lofty goals he set for himself. A young man with big plans could clearly mark his progress on the grid of a football field.

Another Twitter entry, this one from November, in which Turman expressed his clear obsession with the game is now particularly sobering: “DANG! Man I can’t believe FOOTBALL season is over man it’s like half of me dead.”

Just a junior, his speed and instincts already had caught the eye of recruiters at Kentucky, the first school to offer him a preliminary oral scholarship offer. Along with flowers, the university sent a symbolic scholarship offer letter to the funeral.

He was beginning to get noticed by other schools, despite a personality that worked counter to self-promotion, Glenn Ford said. Ford worked with Turman and other college prospects in a training program called iDareU. “He wasn’t flamboyant, and you know, sometimes you have to be a little flamboyant for the camera to catch you. He was just so quiet,” Ford said.

Nevertheless, said Ford, Turman “would have been one of the top guys in the state his senior year, no doubt among the top two or three defensive backs in the state because he was progressing so fast.”

He was one of those dependable kids who was always on time and could always be counted on to do a little extra whether it was to help himself or his coaches, Ford said.

Ford said Turman’s fundamentally upbeat nature revealed itself in a recent conversation about a friend and teammate who transferred out of Creekside. “He told me, ‘Coach, I don’t understand why he would do that his senior year, but I support him.’ He was not a person who dwelled on negativity,” Ford said.

“All his friends centered on him because he was always so positive,” James Turman said.

Other memories have been far more difficult to deal with.

Both Turman’s father and Ford were at the Banneker High field on the evening of the tragic scrimmage.

“I try to sleep sometimes, I see the play and wake up, shake my head a little bit, try to shake it out of my head,” said Ford, who was watching from the sidelines (Turman’s father was in the stands). “A lot of people who know me ask me about it, and I relive it every time I tell what happened. It’s tough.”

It was early in the third quarter of the scrimmage when the Banneker tight end ran a short out pattern. The pass came his way and just as he was pulling the ball to his chest, Turman hit him hard enough to dislodge the ball. Both players collapsed on the turf, say witnesses.

Slowly the Banneker player regained his senses. Turman never moved again. “Bite the ball,” is a term that some coaches use to get defensive players to visualize keeping their head up while making a tackle, leading with their facemask. Ford said Turman was in that position, absorbing the blow on the front of his helmet, not the crown.

Ford was among the first to reach the motionless Turman. On the scene also were two paramedics and a trainer, as was required by Fulton County School System policy. Since this was a scrimmage, not a regularly scheduled game, there was no requirement for a waiting ambulance at the scene.

“We were all calling his name I was holding his hand yelling, “Tre Tre! Tre Tre! Come back!” Ford said. He said that Truman was not breathing, although there were signs of a pulse.

The Fulton County Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be a fracture of the third cervical vertebrae (a broken neck). Such an injury can cause paralysis, including a shutdown of the lungs.

Jones, the family friend, also is a surgeon and on the faculty of the Morehouse School of Medicine. He was not at the scrimmage and was unable to offer an opinion as to whether with greater precautions Turman could have survived the traumatic injury. He pointedly assessed no blame. Still, as the scene was described to him, he was concerned that “no one on hand had the ability to provide an airway.”

Witnesses estimated it was approximately 15 minutes before an ambulance arrived with the necessary personnel and equipment to assist Turman in trying to breathe. He was declared dead at Grady Memorial Hospital that night.

“We’re not talking about cramps or charley horses here,” said Turman’s father. “They need to have an ambulance at the facility all the time these kids are on the field. Every second means something.”

According to a Fulton County School spokeswoman, administrators determined in a meeting Monday that the schools had followed proper procedure for the scrimmage. The county would review its scrimmage safety policies, the spokeswoman said.