His name was Vince Turnage.
Doesn’t sound familiar, does it? That’s because the name doesn’t mean much to people in these parts.
But it means everything to Marshall University’s Milan Lanier.
That’s because the 6-foot-5, 266-pound senior nose tackle played football with Turnage at Mount Healthy High School in Cincinnati.
Lanier looked up to Turnage.
Until he was murdered at the age of 19 on Nov. 17, 2013.
Lanier never has forgotten that date or his late friend. Nearly six years later, it’s still fresh in his memory.
“I lost a teammate ... a brother,” said Lanier. “He was a great guy. He had great character. Rodney Croom [6-3, 260-pound defensive tackle at Marshall], he’s from Cincinnati too. After we played [Winton Woods High School], he got murdered.
“Ever since then, he just kept me going. I knew him for a long time. We grew up together in the same community.”
Turnage was a track star in high school, but also was a standout on the football team.
“He wore No. 85 when I was there at Mount Healthy,” said Lanier.
Think it’s a coincidence that Lanier wears No. 85 now?
After Turnage was gunned down while fleeing from a home invasion, Lanier decided he wanted to honor his late friend and teammate by wearing his number for the rest of his football career.
And that’s exactly what has happened.
When Lanier trots out onto the field at Joan C. Edwards Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday to play the University of Cincinnati as Marshall’s starting nose tackle, he will be wearing No. 85.
And his thoughts undoubtedly will center on Turnage.
How could they not?
After all, the Thundering Herd is playing Lanier’s hometown school — the Cincinnati Bearcats. It would be a huge game for Lanier just from that aspect alone. But when the memory of Turnage and how much he meant to Lanier is added to the equation … well, it becomes epic.
Particularly since Lanier finally has cracked Marshall’s starting lineup as a senior. Which further substantiates Herd head coach Doc Holliday’s theory that players have their best season as seniors.
“I accept that challenge,” said Lanier with a smile. “I’ve just got to keep working. That’s something that I’d like to come true. I’d like this to be my best year.”
So far, so good.
Lanier will be in the starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game on Saturday.
“It’s really easy with J.C. Price [defensive tackles] and Cornell Brown [defensive ends] coaching us,” said Lanier. “You just take the coaching and everything falls in place. That’s all I’ve been doing and I’ve been getting better every day.
“I love everything about playing nose tackle. I like it. I like it a lot. When I first got here I played defensive end, but then I moved to defensive tackle. I’ve been at defensive tackle for two years.”
Granted, Lanier is rather svelte by nose guard standards at 266 pounds.
“We’re more athletic,” explained Lanier. “That’s how we like to play. We take the weight room seriously, very seriously. As long as you have great technique, you can compete with anybody.”
The late Turnage couldn’t have said it better himself. And I’m certain he would be proud of Lanier continuing to honor him by wearing No. 85.
“I want to make him proud,” said Lanier quietly.
I can count 85 ways.