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Rewriting history: Tigers' Turner closing out successful QB career

Dakota Wesleyan University quarterback Dillon Turner will finish his collegiate career on Saturday as the Tigers take on Dordt College at 1 p.m. at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. The Salem, Arkansas, native holds the record for both DWU and the Great Plains Athletic Conference in passing yards for a career. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Dillon Turner set out to leave a legacy.

When Turner joined the Dakota Wesleyan University football team in 2014, the preseason talk centered around who would replace Jon Bane and his school-record 9,224 career passing yards.

"When I came in, I heard, 'Who is going to replace Jon Bane? Who is going to be as good as him? He's a great quarterback. The best quarterback of all time,' " Turner said. "To me, it was just a little chip on my shoulder because I wanted to be the best and so it was just a goal that I had set to take over and just leave my legacy."

The do-it-all Dakota Wesleyan University senior quarterback has done just that. With only Saturday's season finale with Dordt remaining, Turner is the DWU and Great Plains Athletic Conference career leader in passing yards (10,318) and passing touchdowns (112). Turner also has 3,107 career rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns.

Turner's DWU legacy began as a backup, albeit for just one half. In the Tigers' 2014 season-opener against University of Wisconsin-Stout, Turner was the backup behind Luke Stephens. He was inserted into the lineup late in the first half to help spark the offense.

"I knew at that time it was just time to play football and enjoy the opportunity that I had and just take advantage of it. That's what I did," Turner said. "Things still didn't go as great as they could have, but being able to have the opportunity to go in and help our team win and scoring the game-winning touchdown is probably one of the best moments I have as a Tiger."

Turner and the Tigers trailed 19-7 heading into the fourth quarter, but scored 16 unanswered points for a 23-19 win. Turner scored the game-winning touchdown on an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter.

"We were down and Dillon always had the intangibles in terms of being able to create plays with his legs," DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. "He essentially came in the second half and extended a couple plays, scored a couple touchdowns with his feet. We ended up winning the game and he's started every game since then."

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Turner has been terrorizing opposing defenses ever since. Hastings College coach Tony Harper has coached in the GPAC the league's predecessor, the Nebraska-Iowa Athletic Conference for 23 years and ranks Turner highly.

"I have been a part of this league at different schools for a lot of years," Harper said. "I would rank him up there in the top-five overall in the history of both these conferences — GPAC and the NIAC. He is a phenomenal football player."

Long road to Mitchell

Turner's path to DWU's record-breaking quarterback started in Salem, Arkansas. He was a three-year starter for Salem High School and passed for 3,778 yards in his final three seasons. In the recruiting process, Turner's other finalists were NCAA Division II schools Northwest Missouri State, Colorado State University-Pueblo, University of Sioux Falls and St. Cloud State University.

But in the end, DWU was the right fit for him. The Tigers offered Turner a scholarship going into his senior season and then later upped the scholarship offer after the season.

"Then I came on my official visit and that's when I decided I wanted to become a Tiger," Turner said. "I just really liked the guys, the family atmosphere and the coaches were really nice."

After throwing for 1,741 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman, Turner and the offense went through a change. Offensive coordinator Zach Parks joined the DWU coaching staff and overhauled the offensive scheme, installing a zone-read system playing more to Turner's strengths.

"He suits the zone-read offense just because he is an athletic QB," Parks said. "The difference between him and every other athletic QB though is he doesn't run like a fast kid. He has got a lot of power to him. He breaks a lot of tackles. He's pretty smart with his reads, too. So it fits him pretty well."

Turner passed for 2,366 yards as a sophomore and 3,197 yards last year when he was named the GPAC offensive player of the year. Entering Saturday's finale, Turner has 3,014 passing yards this season.

Saturday's game not only marks the end of Turner's DWU career, but also the final trip for his parents to watch him play in Mitchell. Turner's parents—Matt and Jamie—have watched Turner and DWU play all 43 games of his career. The Turners have made the 1,500-mile round trip to Mitchell for all DWU home games for the past four years.

"I can't be more thankful for what they do for me," Turner said. "I tell them they are crazy, but what they do for me is a blessing and it helps motivate me to play."

This season, the Turners watch their other son, Jordan, play high school football on Friday night and then drive 12 hours so they can watch Dillon play. When they arrive in Mitchell, the Turners will either stay in a hotel or with DWU football player Mitch Johnson's parents.

Turner plans to graduate in May with a degree in wildlife management but is not sure of his next move. He might work for the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department or move back home, while contemplating playing professional football overseas or even in the Canadian Football League.

But no matter the next move, Turner's DWU legacy is set.

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