By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. —
They are the unsung heroes of any college football team. Shannon Turley just couldn’t believe they got paid to do it.
During his senior season in 1994 at Bluefield High School, Turley and the Beavers’ football team traveled to Wake Forest to see the Deacons play Florida State. A Seminoles’ coach took the time to meet with the team, leaving quite an impression on a youngster looking for a direction in life.
He found it … in a weight room.
“One of the assistant strength and conditioning coaches spoke with us,” Turley said. “That is when I realized, ‘This is a job, they pay someone to work with the football team and lifting weights.’ I figured that is my deal.”
He was right. A native of Bluefield and a graduate of Virginia Tech, Turley is now in his fourth season as the Sports Performance Coordinator at Stanford.
“We have a great staff and I lead our player development…” Turley said. “I get to work exclusively with our football team so I will coordinate our sports nutrition, sports psychology, strength training, speed development and all of the assets that come into a comprehensive player development program for our team.”
Despite graduating in 2000 from Virginia Tech, there is little doubt where Turley’s allegiance will be tonight when the Cardinal meet the Hokies in the Discover Orange Bowl in Miami.
“Don’t get me wrong, there is not going to be any mixed emotions,” said Turley, who was able to secure 25 tickets for the Orange Bowl. “I’ve got a lot of family and friends and a lot of ties there at Virginia Tech and in Blacksburg, but this is a business trip.
“My utmost concern is with how we perform and what we do and our mission is to win the Orange Bowl and bring that trophy back to Palo Alto and to our campus at Stanford University.”
Turley first got interested in strength training at Bluefield — where he also ran track — and spent two years as a student-assistant at Virginia Tech before serving in various roles at the University Missouri, San Diego University, and he was also with the Wichita Wranglers, the Class AA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, for a year.
There is a chance that none of that would have happened without the influence of Bluefield head football coach Fred Simon. Turley quit football prior to his junior season — frustrated with his role and playing time — but returned, playing wide receiver and safety as a senior for a team that won eight games, one year after winning none.
“I can remember very specifically before my senior season him telling me “Turley, if you will give me six weeks, don’t miss a rep, don’t miss anything, give me six weeks, and I will change your life’,” Turley said. “Six weeks for the rest of your life, that kind of stood out with me.
“I committed to it, and it did. It changed my life and I found a lot of positives through strength training. Coach Simon showed me the way.”
That way revolves around football, a sport he has always been passionate about, even if his mother wasn’t so sure.
“My mom wouldn’t let me play football, she was afraid I was going to get hurt because I wasn’t big enough,” Turley said. “That was how I got started with lifting weights with Coach Simon.
“He is a great strength coach in addition to being a great football coach. He gave me a great foundation there and really taught me the love for what you can learn under the bar and pushing yourself and the self-discipline that it takes to achieve in the weight room.”
Turley attempted to walk-on at Virginia Tech, and did ... on the track team. That experience allowed him the chance to work with Hokies’ strength and conditioning coach Mike Gentry, who is just one of several mentors he’s had on his rise through the ranks.
There are many more, and all have taught him plenty, including how important his role is. With the NCAA limiting the time a head coach can spend with a team, the strength and conditioning coach becomes a crucial outlet for a program’s success.
“They are actually going to spend more time with the team, training in the winter, in the spring and summer and the off-season than you’re ever going to get in practice or playing or watching film,” Turley said. “That is why my role emerged and guys like Mike Gentry have created a profession for people like myself to come along and have a career.”
That career is good now, but Turley has even bigger dreams in the future.
“I think, ultimately, if I could have the opportunity to work in the NFL and win a Super Bowl and be a part of a team that was at that level of success, that would be the ultimate goal, that would fulfill a lifelong childhood dream,” Turley said. “Just being able to contribute to a part of that measure of success would definitely be a dream come true.”
Not that Turley isn’t happy at Stanford. He’s played a key role in the Cardinal going from 1-11 the year before Turley joined Jim Harbaugh at Stanford in ’07 to a team that could finish with a 12-1 mark with a win over the Hokies tonight.
“I love it. Working with Jim, a guy that is just so passionate about it and coaching overall,” said the 33-year-old Turley. “He has so much support for what we do in our strength and conditioning program and values our role in the bigger picture of the program so much.
“I couldn’t imagine a better guy to work with every day and contribute to his program It is a privilege and honor ot be able to do that…
“I have been very fortunate, I have worked with a lot of great coaches and have been very fortunate to be a part of a lot of successful programs. That makes the climb a little easier when you are standing on the shoulders of such great men and great programs.”
No matter where Turley is coaching, he’ll always have a soft spot for Bluefield, and the Beavers.
“I have very fine memories of Bluefield, the rivalry with Graham and just how important football is and how important that rivalry is,” Turley said. “Just playing physical football and the pride and the tradition and all the things that get carried on as a Beaver there really set the tone and the foundation for me.”