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Forty-one years after leaving Purdue, 49ers’ Keena Turner graduates with his daughter – San Francisco 49ers Blog

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With a school deadline bearing down, four-time Super Bowl champion Keena Turner and his daughter Ella sat, stared at and tweaked the first slide of a project. Minutes turned to an hour, and an hour turned to two.

That night in 2019 was slipping away fast, and there was still more to do. But this wasn’t a common case of a parent helping a child through an assignment. The opposite, in fact.

“He would be on the same slide for hours,” Ella Turner said. “I’d have to say, ‘Dad, we have about 10 more to go, we can’t be on this one slide for two hours. We’ve got to keep going, and if you want to come back when we’re done with everything, we can come back.’ There were a couple times when I was like, ‘That’s great, you can move on now.’ He just had really high standards.”

That Keena Turner took an exceedingly serious approach to his return to college — more than four decades after departing Purdue for the NFL — should come as no surprise. As a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers from 1980 to 1990, Turner was an integral part of the dynastic Niners. All he’s ever known is the highest level of achievement, and he was determined to apply it to his return to college at the age of 60.

Much like in his football life, Turner, now 62, wanted an appropriately poetic final chapter for all of his hard work: the opportunity to share a graduation day with Ella at his alma mater.

A plan that had its share of stops and starts over the past 40 years finally came to fruition on May 15 in West Lafayette, Indiana. That day, Keena and Ella Turner walked side by side into Ross-Ade Stadium, the same venue where Turner had earned consecutive All Big-Ten honors as a junior and senior, and settled in for a ceremony that felt like it might never happen.

“Here’s the stadium I played in, and it had all those kind of emotions and memories,” Keena Turner said. “Over this last year, we weren’t sure if there would be a physical graduation, so there was all of this uncertainty about how it would happen, and so for Purdue to have a physical graduation and have all the graduates in the stadium and getting the opportunity to be acknowledged by family and friends in this way, it was great.

“I actually sat with Ella in the stands. I went in with Ella, and when my school was called, I stood up and got acknowledged with my school, but I was there the whole time with her. That was really cool.”

Keena Turner received his diploma for organizational leadership from the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. Ella Turner obtained her degree in selling and sales management from the College of Health and Human Sciences. But the Turner family gained much more along the way.


The needed spark

By the time Keena Turner retired from the NFL in 1990, he already knew that he wanted to finish his degree and keep a promise to his mother. At the time, Harry Edwards, the noted civil rights activist who has worked as a consultant to the 49ers, had begun a degree completion program for players through the University of San Francisco.

While that allowed Turner to keep his promise, the fact that he hadn’t finished what he started at Purdue gnawed at him. Soon enough, Turner’s wife, Linda, began reminding him how much history he had with the Boilermakers and what it would mean for him to have a diploma from the place where his name still rings out.

Over the past decade, Linda Turner had been reaching out to Purdue to find out what it would take for her husband to earn his degree. It didn’t happen right away, though, as Turner’s return to academia was slowed by a series of false starts.

“This thing kind of had life and died several times,” Keena said.

It wasn’t until Ella decided that she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps that everything finally aligned. Encouraged by her parents to explore schools outside of California as they once had — Linda Turner is a graduate of Notre Dame — Ella evaluated all options.

Purdue was at the top of the list, but when her dad offered to make calls on her behalf, she declined, preferring to gain admission on her own merits while keeping her options open. When she was accepted, she said, it “definitely felt right.”

As it turned out, Keena needed only two more classes, one in science and another in upper management, to earn his Purdue degree. Both could be completed virtually. When he learned that he could graduate with Ella, who enrolled in 2017, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“Once I heard that possibility, I was like, ‘I’m all-in,'” Keena said.

Ella quickly helped her father select the two classes he needed: physical geography and supply chain management.

“When I went, it kind of sparked everything back up,” Ella Turner said. “He asked me right away if I would be OK with him doing it and him walking with me and everything. I thought it would be the coolest thing ever.”


Family matters

As if going back to school after 40 years away weren’t difficult enough, Keena still had to worry about his day job. As the 49ers’ vice president and senior adviser to the general manager, Turner has no shortage of day-to-day tasks.

Because of that, Ella suggested that her father would be best served pursuing his final credits outside of the football season. Ever the creature of habit, Turner felt like he could handle the workload and have his summer off like any college student (or football player) would.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Turner said, laughing.

Turner reenrolled in 2019, which also happened to be the year the 49ers surged back to the Super Bowl. Balancing work and school proved no easy task, especially with the physical geography class cramming a semester’s worth of work into just eight weeks.

On a scouting trip to Notre Dame, LSU, Auburn and Alabama with current assistant general manager Adam Peters, Turner found himself staying up late into the night, turning in daily chapter assignments and taking three quizzes in the span of that one week.

In early December, the Niners traveled east to play the Baltimore Ravens with a weeklong stay in Bradenton, Florida, before heading to New Orleans. One night, while coach Kyle Shanahan & Co. were studying Drew Brees and the Saints, Turner’s attention was on taking a quiz that had to be completed by midnight.

Turner logged on around 11:15 p.m. ready to take the quiz. At the worst imaginable time, the hotel Wi-Fi dropped, leaving Turner scrambling for an alternative before he realized he had until midnight Pacific time to get it done.

“He said he could do it and I said OK, but of course he was over here stressed out about making sure he gets his quizzes done by the deadline, and he’s traveling and going to different schools for scouting,” Ella said. “I said, ‘See, I told you, you could have just waited until the summer,’ but he got it all done. He was super on top of it.”

To do that, Turner leaned on what he knows best: a team approach.

Linda had remained in contact with Purdue and helped her husband get the needed credits. Keena said his wife “breathed life” back into the college idea more than once.

Ella ran point, helping her dad enroll in his classes, making sure he knew how to use the technology needed to check his assignments and grades, and assisting on class projects where she could.

Sheena Turner-August, the oldest of the Turner siblings and a psychology professor at Las Positas College in Livermore, California, served as a sounding board for her father when he had questions about interacting with professors, and she offered perspective on how to be a student again after so many years away. Turner’s son, Miles, who plays basketball at the University of Portland, also chipped in when needed.

“There were times when I had my wife doing something to help, Ella doing something to help, my son Miles doing something to help and my oldest daughter on the phone just trying to help me keep moving forward,” Keena said.

While Turner struggled for a bit with physical geography, he landed a B, and he finished his supply chain management class with little problem, scoring an A for his work.


A special day

Throughout the long journey to their shared graduation day, the Turners were never quite sure if they’d actually get to participate in a physical ceremony. The pandemic had shut down most of those celebrations, but the country had started opening up again just in time for Keena and Ella to enjoy the day they had long discussed.

Even as the big day approached, Keena remained wary of taking attention away from his daughter’s accomplishment.

“I didn’t even look at it that way,” Ella said. “He’s my dad; I would never think he’s trying to take my shine. But he always emphasized and wanted to make sure I was comfortable with everything. That meant a lot to me.”

Now that graduation day has come and gone, Keena Turner has settled back into his daily duties with the 49ers. Ella is planning to move to Phoenix and is looking for a position in marketing or sales.

No matter where their paths lead next, they’ll always have the day they won’t soon forget, sitting together in a football stadium celebrating each other’s shared achievement surrounded by the family that helped make it all possible.

“The emotion of being proud of her and seeing her make this accomplishment back at my school, back at Purdue, that would have been more than enough,” Keena said. “But then the icing of me being there and being part of it in that way and that accomplishment, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

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Aldon Smith wants to ‘make the best’ of his chance with Seattle Seahawks

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RENTON, Wash. — Aldon Smith declined to answer questions Saturday about his pending legal case in Louisiana or how it might impact his availability this season with the Seattle Seahawks.

“I can’t comment on that right now,” he said.

In his first interview since signing with the Seahawks in April, the 31-year-old pass-rusher had much more to say about his four seasons away from the NFL and his latest opportunity following last year’s comeback with the Dallas Cowboys.

“Every day I just try to get better, and as long as I keep that mentality and keep learning and keep developing, the sky is still the limit for me,” he said. “I feel like I still have a lot left in the tank and a lot to offer this game.”

Smith is getting his first chance to prove that to the Seahawks. He didn’t take part in the their voluntary offseason program — several of the team’s veteran players skipped the majority of it as well — and received an excused absence from their mandatory minicamp. Coach Pete Carroll said that was so Smith could get in shape, which he has since done.

Wearing the No. 99 he wore when he began his career with the divisional rival San Francisco 49ers, Smith has been on the field for all three of Seattle’s practices since the start of training camp and hasn’t appeared limited. Early in Thursday’s practice, he engaged a tackling sled, lifted it up and nearly flipped it over.

“He’s made a good first impression about learning stuff,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a very bright kid. … He knows what’s going on in the game, brings us experience and background and all of that. He’s having no trouble picking things up. He’s got a real style. He’s always had this marvelous length and reach and hands and hand play, and you can just tell, he’s got a strength and power to him that’s really unusual.”

Smith set an NFL record with 33.5 sacks over his first two seasons and has 52.5 sacks in five seasons.

None of that means he is a lock to stick with the Seahawks. He was guaranteed only $137,500 on his one-year, minimum-salary deal. And he’s more of a potential luxury than a necessity, given how loaded the Seahawks are with edge rushers, including veterans Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa and Kerry Hyder as well as promising young players such as Darrell Taylor, Alton Robinson and L.J. Collier.

“It’s going to be very competitive,” Carroll said. “I hope you can see it already. It already shows. But once we get into pads, I’m anxious to see where he stands with that.”

Smith’s pending legal case adds to the uncertainty. He faces potential legal and NFL discipline over an alleged second-degree battery in the New Orleans area in April. Smith was arrested after he was accused of choking a man unconscious during an altercation that began inside a coffee shop. According to the police report obtained by WWL-TV, Smith had confronted the man about marital issues the man was having with one of Smith’s relatives.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider said later in April that the team would “let the legal process take its course.” Smith is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 24, though that date could be pushed back.

The Louisiana incident was the latest of Smith’s several brushes with the law, which have included multiple DUI arrests and a domestic-violence charge. Those incidents and others led the NFL to suspend Smith from 2015-19 for violations of its policies on personal conduct and substances of abuse.

Smith was asked what he learned during his time away.

“That football is an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get, and when you get opportunities in life, you should make the best of them,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who wish that they could play this game and I’m glad that I just got a chance to be able to do the things that I needed to do to get mentally right, that I could be in a position that when I came back, I could be focused and give it what I need to give it to play.”

Smith had five sacks in 16 games for Dallas, with three coming in one game against Seattle and all of them coming in the first half of the season. He felt he got too heavy and has since worked to get back to his preferred weight, which is around 270 pounds.

“I was kind of fat last year,” he said.

Smith stayed in a sober living home last season in Dallas and is doing so now in Seattle. He said his “tremendous support staff” helps him with his ongoing battle to remain sober.

“For me it was just making myself vulnerable and being willing to trust and lean on [those] people,” he said. “I’ve always had people that were there, but I would always try to carry everything on my shoulders. So letting people help me and accepting that help was a major game-changer.”

Carroll said Seattle felt comfortable signing Smith after “a lot of homework” and several conversations with him. Smith made a positive impression on Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. when both were with the Raiders in 2015, which factored heavily into the decision.

Carroll said Smith has demonstrated the vulnerability he talked about “in that he was very open and very upfront and he said, ‘I need some work right now, I need some help right now and it’s going to take me a while to get this done and that done.’ He was not trying to cover for himself. He didn’t pull any punches on it at all and was very up front, and it was most refreshing.”

Carroll said that while it’s ultimately on Smith to remain sober, the Seahawks will support him “every step of the way.”

“I want him to succeed at this in the worst way and I want him to come through and do what he needs to do, so we’re going to give him every opportunity,” Carroll said. “The level of communication is very clear and he’s been very open with us, and he’s told us when things were harder than others and he’s been upfront in that regard and that’s helped us understand and believe and trust that he’s working at it, and that it isn’t easy and it’s a lifelong commitment that he has to make.

“We really sense that the more we can support him, the more obviously we can be there for him, the stronger it makes him. So that’s really what our intent is here.”

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Veteran QB Sean Mannion signing with Seattle Seahawks, source says

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RENTON, Wash. — The Seattle Seahawks are signing free-agent quarterback Sean Mannion, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday.

The signing adds apparent competition for one of the backup jobs behind Russell Wilson and reunites the 29-year-old Mannion with new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. Waldron was an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams for two of the quarterback’s four seasons with the team.

The Seahawks have had Danny Etling and Alex McGough as their third and fourth quarterbacks behind Wilson and Geno Smith, who has served as Wilson’s backup the past two seasons. The Seahawks typically keep two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster and another on their practice squad, though they began carrying another backup on their practice squad late last season as COVID-19-related insurance.

The Seahawks re-signed Smith this offseason to a one-year, minimum-salary deal worth $1,212,500, with $137,500 guaranteed.

Mannion entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the Rams out of Oregon State in 2015. He spent his first four seasons with the Rams and the past two with the Minnesota Vikings. He has appeared in 13 games (none last season) with two starts and has completed 45 of 74 passes for 384 yards and zero touchdowns with three interceptions.

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Arizona Cardinals’ Jordan Hicks says he requested trade after learning he can’t vie for starting job

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — A few days after the Arizona Cardinals drafted linebacker Zaven Collins 16th overall on April 29, general manager Steve Keim called Jordan Hicks, one of the team’s starting inside linebackers the past two seasons, and told him he couldn’t compete for a starting job this season, Hicks said Saturday.

Hicks, 29, has played in all 32 games since signing with the Cardinals in 2019 and has the sixth-most tackles and snaps over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

He said he was “pissed off” but also understood the business behind the team’s decision to name Collins the Day 1 starter at inside linebacker alongside last season’s first-round pick, Isaiah Simmons.

According to Hicks, that discussion with Keim led to Hicks requesting a trade this offseason. A deal has yet to materialize, but he has garnered interest, Hicks said.

“When everything happened, it was tough to handle,” Hicks said.

“I respected the fact that he told me straight up. I respected the fact that he told me he was going to work with me to try to honor a trade. And, so, there’s a part of you that respects that, but then there’s a part that just wishes you had had an opportunity to compete, which is all I asked for.”

Hicks, who didn’t participate in the Cardinals’ mandatory minicamp, said there was a point this offseason when he didn’t expect to be a Cardinal in 2021. He said he believes the reduced salary cap in 2021 was partially to blame for him not getting traded. Hicks’ contract was restructured in late March to make his $3 million salary this season fully guaranteed. He also has a roster bonus that’s worth up to $1 million if he’s active for all 16 games. He could earn another $2 million in bonuses, partially from playing time.

Even though Hicks said he’s “excited to be here,” he also said he would welcome an opportunity to start — anywhere.

“I think at this point, I think I’ve proven that I’m a starter in this league by the resume that I have, by the past two years of being here and showing my leadership, showing my play on the field,” Hicks said. “And, so, whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, if given the opportunity to compete, I think I can have a starting job.”

Hicks said he has thus far been impressed with Collins, who’ll be entrusted with calling the Cardinals’ defense. Hicks, who had that role the past two seasons, described the task as “tough.”

“I’m gonna be very honest with you, Zaven has done a great job. He has,” Hicks said. “He’s really impressed me in his ability to pick up the defense and be out there commanding it, as well.

“It’s a tough job and takes a lot of responsibility, especially when you’ve got guys like Chandler Jones and Budda Baker and J.J. Watt looking back at you to make sure that you’re getting the right call in. So, it’s a lot, but if you can handle it, you can handle it, and that’s part of the game I know, for me, specifically, I love it. That’s one thing I excel at.”

Hicks has been seen at training camp working with both Collins and Simmons on the sideline, showing them different moves or talking through plays. Even though he’s preparing his replacements, Hicks has accepted his role as a mentor. Hicks looked back on how DeMeco Ryans, now the San Francisco 49ers‘ defensive coordinator, answered all of his questions and helped him when he was a rookie in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he said he used that as an example of how he wanted to approach this season.

“I don’t try to waver who I am,” Hicks said. “Whether I’m out there starting or whether I’m not, I’m going to help whoever needs help, because I feel like I’ve got a lot of knowledge to share.”

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph didn’t rule out the possibility of Hicks earning playing time or spelling Collins should Collins struggle. Joseph was among the Cardinals coaches who were in touch with him throughout the offseason.

Joseph said there could be a package that includes Hicks and the two young linebackers. A glimpse of that was on display during Saturday’s practice.

Hicks said the best players should play, plain and simple.

“This year, it’s such a make-or-break year,” Hicks said. “We’ve got to win games, and this division isn’t getting any easier. “And, so, we’ve got to focus on winning. We’ve got to focus on execution.”

After Hicks finished a revealing news conference in which he didn’t shy away from any question, he tried to open the door that connected the media room and the locker room.

It was locked.

Hicks laughed.

The irony wasn’t lost on him.

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