Follow Here To Purchase The Next Level: A Game I Had To Play! (Volume 1)

Author: Vernon Turner

ISBN: 13: 978-0-9844736-0-1

On the day that the 2011 NFL lockout ended, I happened to catch the announcement on ESPN while huffing and puffing on a treadmill at a local YMCA. The fellow on the treadmill next to mine, whose pace replicated a leisurely summer stroll more than an intense workout, muttered to no one in particular: “It’s about time those lazy, overpaid thugs got back to work.”

Not a fan, I thought. But there are a lot of people who probably would agree with that rather harsh critique. Many non-athletes often rail against the exorbitant salaries paid to grown men for “playing a kid’s game.” Any time a high-profile athlete runs afoul of the law, such people have another exhibit in their general indictment against the “thugishness” of professional athletes. And one can point to superstar athletes’ salaries as a skewed measure of society’s value system, I suppose. But “lazy”? Even for a cynic, that’s quite a stretch.

I was thinking of that spontaneous outburst as I read The Next Level, the life story of former professional football player Vernon Turner, whose peripatetic six-year career in the 1990s saw him play for four different teams. A prolific punt returner, Turner also put in some time as a receiver and running back.

Of course, that’s what fans saw on Sundays. But it’s what fans never see that elevates football from a kid’s game played by “lazy, overpaid thugs.” Turner’s entertaining and inspiring book reveals the almost super-human commitment required to succeed at the highest echelon of professional sport.

In Turner’s case, the obstacles on his road to the NFL seemed even more insurmountable than would normally be the case. From the time he was in high school until he retired in 1995, Turner’s size was always a presumed liability. At 5’ 9”, and about 165 pounds, he was often disparaged as far too small to make it in the pros. Time and again, he showed his critics the truth of the old adage that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, that makes the difference.

But Turner’s biggest obstacle wasn’t physical. As his moving, often heart-breaking book reveals, Turner’s family situation offered him challenges that dwarf the threats posed by any blitzing linebacker or flying wedge. Raised by a mother who couldn’t beat her heroin addiction (but thought nothing of striking her kids), Turner found himself beholden to his drug-addled mother, dealing with an absent father, and managing the oppressive burden of supervising (and later financially supporting) his younger brothers and sisters.

His commitment to succeed was almost inexplicable. Setting his alarm clock in the middle of the night for 2 a.m. workouts (he knew his competition would be sleeping, and he saw this extra daily workout as a competitive advantage), Turner simply refused to acknowledge the considerable obstacles in his way. Inspired by some caring coaches in both high school and college – and desirous of emulating his football hero, Number 34, the late, great Walter “Sweetness” Payton – Turner turned adversity into incentive, channeling the aggression he felt off the field into a frenzied locomotion on the gridiron.

Turner’s book is a brutally frank yet uplifting memoir of one man’s courage in the face of adversity, and of the power of “yes” to change a life. Given all that he had been through, he could well have emerged from the other side of his troubled upbringing with contempt and malice. Instead, his faith in God, his coaches, and himself led him to a better place. His story is truly inspiring. It might not turn you into a professional athlete, but it ought to be good for a least a few more miles on the treadmill next time you feel you have nothing left to give.

Follow Here To Purchase The Next Level: A Game I Had To Play! (Volume 1)