FULLERTON, California -- The only thing greater than Antoine Turner's will to win on the football field is his relentless effort to survive off of it.
It's a continuous cycle that he's lived his whole life.
“Wake up, survive. Go to sleep, survive. Wake up, survive. Every day,” Turner explains.
The 6'3", 280-pund defensive end has battled adversity from an early age. It's also a pattern the currently-homeless, future Division I athlete continues while readying to join the Boise State Broncos in June.
"My mom died when I was four of cancer. I had this big of a hole in my heart,” said an emotional Turner, describing the start of his long journey.
The death strained Turner's relationship with his father. Soon afterward, Antoine left home at a young age. Bouncing around from house-to-house in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, he was caught up in gang activity.
Eight years later, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, further complicating his young life.
“School was just about to start, and they said everybody had to evacuate, Turner recalled. “We stayed in the apartment complex because we thought it was going to pass. Then the water came rolling in and flooded, and we had to evacuate out of the roof.”
The storm took his home, every picture from his childhood, his uncle's life, and his sense of security.
“Nothing was really normal anymore. New Orleans wasn't New Orleans anymore,” Turner said, adding “I didn't really have the mental stability to lead a normal life."
Even when the waters subsided, Antoine's community struggled, and Antoine struggled in his community. He turned to running drugs for gang members in order to survive.
SURVIVAL IN THE GHETTO
“They had some big guys running New Orleans' streets, and they'd ask me to take this from point A to point B,” Turner explained. “It would be anything for narcotics, weed, anything they just put in my bag. Sometimes I wouldn't even look because I'd be scared.”
“I'd do that just for protection so I wouldn't get hurt. So my family wouldn't get hurt,” he said.
After more than a year of doing what was necessary to survive in the ghetto, Antoine finally found a way to escape his senior year.
“What happened was, they (found out) I was playing sports,” Turner explained. “I was playing football and I wasn't having to go home until late at night. That kept me out of the streets. That kept be out of trouble.
“They may be thugs and they may be gangsters, but they actually cared,” Turner said. “They kind of like gave me a pass. They just said 'look man, you're going to be good. Anytime you have a problem, you let us know. You're going to be alright around here.’”
As good as Antoine was though, one part of his past caught up with him. He didn't have the grades to play at an NCAA school.
So Antoine found an alternative. Fullerton Junior College in California.
“I brought a suitcase and a dream,” Turner replied when asked what possession he brought with him to California.
“I thought I was going to get away from my problems, but they just had started.”
He had no money. No help from home. No home at all. What he had, he found: a local park bench.
“I went homeless. I went from 290 to 220-pounds,” Turner said.
“I ain't never really had no blanket or nothing like that,” Turner explained as he recalled the park bench he once slept on. “So I could either lay across this or I would sit (with my arms folded) and lay my head down. I constantly wake up, look around, make sure everything was good.”
“About a year after I came out here, I actually couldn't take it no more. At one time I had the feeling of suicide,” Turner said, filled with emotion. “I couldn't fight no more.”
FINDING A NEW FAMILY
It was then maybe the best thing to ever happened to Antoine did. His girlfriend, R'Mya, introduced Antoine to her family.
“It was more or less like let’s take care of him,” said R'Mya’s uncle, Nathaniel Gray.
“He is so full of life,” added R'Mya’s aunt, Janea Rose.
“He came off so cool and so innocent, explained R'Mya’s other uncle, Douglas Gray. “I adapted to him real quick as a little brother type.”
Antoine lived with members of R'Mya's family one-and-off for well over a year. In the process, he gained over 45 pounds and transformed into a Division I football player.
“I'm glad to help the young man and get him on his way,” said Douglas Gray.
“Just proud of him. He's been through so much. He's been through so much,” added an emotional Nathaniel Gray.
Unbelievably, Antoine explains that he's now homeless again. With his uncle living in a government subsidized house, regulations forced Antoine to leave.
That means Antoine will spend the final six week before his arrival in Boise on June 6, staying in motels when he has money, and sleeping in R'Mya's car when he doesn't.
Strangely enough, the circumstance doesn’t seem to rattle him anymore. After all, it's a song and story he's heard before. A song and story he wrote.
“I spent a lot of time laying and sleeping with those lights on - so every time when those lights come on when I'm on the football field, it reminds me like I'm sleeping back on the bench,” Turner said.
“It's not over though. I understanding it's not over. I feel like I owe Boise because they gave me something that I ain't never had before. That's why I always say, I'm bring all the pain and everything I have with me,” Turner explained.
“It's time to eat. It's time to eat. And I'm hungry too.”
To hear more from Turner on the app, go to the video tab.
Turner: "I don't have to beg for anything anymore."
Turner: “Idaho fits perfect for me … my soul felt like it connected with (The Blue).”
Turner: “I’m in love!”