Landon Turner traveled to Clemson last weekend with the rest of his teammates at North Carolina and he traveled with his pads and his uniform, too. There was a chance, a small chance, that he might have been cleared to play.
That was his hope, at least, and so he wanted to be prepared. There was a conversation about it last Friday night before the game. Turner had endured an MCL sprain a couple weeks before, in that victory against San Diego State on Sept. 7, and he was getting closer and closer to recovering.
The doctor, though, advised Turner he still needed a little more time – that playing against Clemson carried too great a risk. So for the second consecutive game, he watched. And for the second consecutive game, he waited.
Then, on Sunday, he received word that he had been cleared to return to practice. So for the first time in a while he went through a full practice on Tuesday, full pads and all, and Turner said it felt good. He smiled while he described it.
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“It was awesome,” Turner said. “It was the most fun I've had in a long time. Yeah, I missed being out here with the guys. It was nice. It was a blessing, actually, to be put out because I have a better appreciation for the game now.”
The Tar Heels might have a better appreciation for Turner, too. He entered the season the team's most experienced, proven offensive lineman. The line was always going to be a question, even with Turner, because of its inexperience overall.
When Turner suffered that injury, though, it changed things up front. All of a sudden, the Tar Heels were without their leader on the line. All of a sudden, they were starting a freshman, Jared Cohen, who hadn't even been on campus for three months.
It got worse. UNC lost Jon Heck, is starting right tackle, during that 70-41 loss against East Carolina.
The Tar Heels did as well as they could up front. Which is to say, they didn't do all that well. Against ECU, they clearly missed Turner and Heck, after he was hurt. Against Clemson, the line did few things well early on against the Tigers, but then improved, gradually, as the game wore on.
“I'm really proud of them,” Turner said of how his teammates on the line played without him. “They've really stepped up when they needed to. Especially in that Clemson game. Like I said, it was a very hostile environment. They've got the best defense in the country.
“One of the best defenses in the country. And they just stepped up and played well.”
Turner sustained the sprained MCL, he said, when UNC quarterback Marquise Williams was pushed into his knee. It happened once, in the season-opener against Liberty, Turner said, and then it happened against San Diego State. At first, no one was really sure how long Turner might be out.
Chris Kapilovic, the UNC offensive line coach, said some thought Turner could miss four to six weeks. Turner was hoping he'd be back for the ECU game on Sept. 20. He wound up being sidelined for about three weeks, one of which was an off weekend for the Tar Heels.
And now they have back their best offensive lineman. Turner just started to resume practicing in full, with pads and full contact, but he didn't hesitate to answer a question about whether he would definitely play on Saturday when UNC hosts Virginia Tech.
“Let me just say it,” he said. “I'm playing Saturday.”
Turner is from Harrisonburg, Va., and so games against the Virginia schools mean something more to him. Virginia Tech, he said, recruited him “pretty heavily,” and he knows a lot of guys who play for the Hokies, and knows, too, that Virginia Tech usually has a formidable defense.
So these games are special to him, and he now he's back just in time to play in one.
Andrew Carter is the UNC athletics beat reporter for The News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter at @_andrewcarter .