College Football: Matt Turchin
EMORY, Va. - It was the second week of the 2008 season, and West Rowan's Matt Turchin, 140 pounds soaking wet, watched 210-pound Davie County bull James Mayfield accept his spiraling kickoff.
"I was the most nervous I'd ever been," Turchin said. "I'd been used to playing in soccer games with four people in the stands - counting my parents - and then I'm in a West-Davie football game. There must have been 8,000 people there."
As Mayfield sped to the 20, and then the 25, and then the 30, Turchin started wondering when one of his 10 buddies would make the tackle. Hey, wasn't that why they were out there?
Then silent oh-my-goshes and a few quick prayers gushed out of Turchin, as Mayfield kept coming - and kept coming.
"Mayfield's coming right at me, and I start to break down to try to tackle him, and a blocker just ear-holes me," Turchin said. "Never saw it coming. My cleats go way up over my head. Guys are laughing. My teammates gave me a hard time about that one the rest of the year."
In time, Turchin's burly teammates, such as All-Americans K.P. Parks and Chris Smith, stopped laughing and started high-fiving Turchin. He would finish that season with five field goals and 73 extra points and a 3A state championship ring.
The past four seasons, Turchin has handled placements and kickoffs for Emory & Henry, and his accurate boots have sailed through the quiet mountains of southwestern Virginia.
His biggest field goal at West was the one against Lake Norman that broke the ice in a game that West eventually won in overtime.
While West had few tight contests in 2008, Emory & Henry needs every point Turchin can provide.
In the homecoming game on Saturday, Turchin kicked three field goals. The last one, with 10 seconds left to play, lifted the Wasps to a stirring 15-14 victory against Catholic, which had jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
Turchin, who got clobbered on that deciding kick by a wave of rushers with nothing to lose, got just enough of a 22-yarder to send it wobbling through the uprights. E&H fans were charging the field not long after that to celebrate with their heroes.
That ugly, yet beautiful game-winner was the 33rd field goal Turchin has produced for the Wasps. He's kicked 95 PATs, including 74-for-75 the past three seasons.
Emory & Henry owes a debt to former West football players Ricky Moore, Marco Gupton, Dylan Andrews and Austin Greenwood - especially Greenwood, who was an All-State safety. They were the guys who talked Turchin, who always had enjoyed contact on the soccer field, into playing football for the first time as a prep senior.
"A lot of my friends were the macho football guys, they needed a kicker and they talked me into to trying it," Turchin said. "I started out kicking footballs with Austin in the backyard."
Greenwood was Turchin's holder in a senior year that began with Turchin scoring 10 points in the opener against North Rowan. That embarrassing moment against Davie came in Week 2, but that entire season, Turchin was automatic for Scott Young's powerful squad that won 14 straight after losing to Davie.
Turchin drew mild recruiting interest from Division II SAC schools.
"Emory & Henry actually was the last school I heard from," Turchin said. "I'd never heard of it when they first contacted me. I liked the school, and the academics were very strong. It was Division III, but they were the program that really wanted me."
Turchin was just OK his freshman year - 4-for-9 on field goals and 21-for-25 on PATs - but he's had the good fortune to be coached the past three seasons by kicking guru Doug Blevins. Blevins is a nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2013.
Blevins was born with cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, but he became obsessed with the art of kicking at a young age and probably knows as much about it as any human. His successful pupils include Adam Viniateri, who has made Super Bowl-winning kicks, and David Akers, a six-time Pro Bowler.
"Kicking is a science," Blevins said. "Mentally and physically, everything about it is a science."
And his first impressions of Turchin?
"I had to bench him," Blevins said with a chuckle. "Matt wasn't kicking like I'd instructed. He's coachable, so it wasn't that he wasn't trying to do it, he just didn't understand how I wanted him to do it. We had a little talk. We've been on the same page since then."
Turchin swears by his coach.
"He changed literally everything I was doing as a kicker," Turchin said. "He changed my steps and my approach, and he even changed my shoe size."
One of Blevins' novel ideas is that kickers should wear shoes that are a size too small. Turchin has bought into all of it.
"All Coach asks is perfection, but it's been easy to establish a bond with him," Turchin said. "His reputation is amazing, and he's got a great sense of humor. He likes to tell me, "Hey, you've got to trust me, Matt. I've never missed a kick."
Turchin kicked 46-yard field goals in 2010 and 2011. He hasn't made one of that length this season, but he's been consistent. He's 8-for-8 on field goals under 40 yards.
"Matt's got range to 55 yards," Blevins said. "He's got a good leg and he's mature mentally, and we've got all the confidence in the world in him."
Kicking puts enormous strain on Turchin's legs and hips, so Blevins' practice regimen emphasizes the quality of kicks over the quantity of kicks.
There are days when classes, labs and football practice don't end for Turchin until nearly 8 p.m., but it's all been worth it. He's done well in the classroom as a future accountant. Grad school is probably next, although he also plans to pursue kicking as far as it will take him.And one last thing about Turchin. He's gotten in the weight room in college and is stronger than he was in high school.
When Turchin kicked off against Hampden-Sydney on Oct. 10,, Hampden's 185-pound running back Regis Craft looked like he might go all the way.
But Turchin made the solo tackle.
"It's not ever a good thing when a kicker has to make a tackle, but that's my last job on a kickoff," Turchin said quietly. "And I'm prepared now to make that tackle."