Catching up with…Alan Turner

August 28, 2013

Prior to successful careers in Division I football and later in the business world, Alan Turner was a Parade All-American football player at Carroll County High School prior to his graduation in 1974.

A member of head coach Tommy Thompson’s final football team at CCHS, Turner would go on to play football at The Citadel, where he started at defensive end. After graduation from the South Carolina military school, Turner would earn his MBA from Virginia Tech and work 15 years for IBM. Since that time, he was worked with Magnets USA in Roanoke, a company founded by his brother Dale. Alan is now president of the company and Dale is Vice President.

This week we talk to Alan about football, being recruited by Frank Beamer, the business world and growing up on a farm in Laurel Fork.

What year did you graduate from Carroll County High School? I graduated in 1974.

What year did you graduate from The Citadel? I graduated in 1978 with a degree in Electrical Engineering and from Virginia Tech in 1980 with an MBA.

Family members: I have three sons, Mark, just out of the Marines and now working for Gallo wines in California. Matthew, in the Marines at Camp Pendleton, and David, the youngest who is in graduate school at Colorado State for structural engineering. Mark and David both graduated from VMI. I am the #3 son of Carson and Oneta Turner of Laurel Fork. My brother Stephen still farms the old home place which has been in the family for 150 years. My other siblings, Dale, Ralph and Mary, flew the coop. My wife Kim and my stepson Zach live with me in Roanoke.

Current occupation: I am President of Magnets USA in Roanoke. We make magnetic marketing products mainly for use in business.

When you played football at the Citadel, you had an incredibly talented group of coaches. Head coach Bobby Ross would go on to win a national championship at Georgia Tech in 1990 and take the San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl in 1994. The coaching staff also included Frank Beamer, the all-time active wins leader among college football coaches; Ralph Friedgen, who would go on to win multiple National Coach of the Year awards at the University of Maryland; and Jimmye Laycock, who has won 215 games at William & Mary. Some have called that coaching staff one of the greatest ever assembled in college football. At the time, did you have any idea so many of those coaches would go on to have the success they did? Yes, Coach Ross put together quite a staff. Considering that The Citadel was his first college head coaching job, makes it all the more noteworthy. Looking back, the strength of character, leadership and intensity of Coach Ross were admirable and he obviously surrounded himself with like-minded people.

When you tell people you were recruited by Frank Beamer, do they immediately think you played for the Hokies? Yes, they do. Now a day, any mention of Coach Beamer brings Tech to mind, but when he was recruiting me, he was someone I idolized as a football player – not a coach. As it turned out he was my position coach three out of my four years at The Citadel and I got to know him as the fine coach and family man he is today. (His son Shane was born in Charleston at the end of my senior year.) I still remember Mrs. Beamer walking around campus looking very pregnant.

How rough was life at a military school like The Citadel? Well, it was quite a culture shock for a country boy. Thankfully for me, Clark Reece, my old high school teammate, was already at The Citadel, having gone through ‘knob year’ the previous year. Freshmen football players arrived on campus a couple of weeks before the rest of the team so we could go through our ‘indoctrination.’ Needless to say, at the end of the two weeks I was really excited about Clark’s pending arrival.

A couple of days before Clark was scheduled in, Coach Beamer took me aside and told me that he was not sure Clark was coming back – that Clark was having second thoughts. Talk about panic – my college career was in jeopardy before it had barely started. Thankfully, Coach Tommy Thompson came to the rescue one more time. He met with Clark and drove him down to The Citadel the next day - a crisis averted. From there it was relatively smooth sailing for both of us.

How in the world do you go from being to being recruited as a safety to being a starter on the defensive line? That seems like quite an adjustment. Well, actually the move to safety was the bigger adjustment for me. I played tight end, linebacker and defensive end at Carroll County so I was used to being closer to the line of scrimmage. I think the fact that I intercepted 7 passes from my linebacker position as a senior plus being a very skinny 172lbs had something to do with the safety thing. Fortunately for me, our safety made All-Conference that year. So to get playing time, a change of positions was my best option. I was moved to defensive end in our wide tackle six defensive scheme. I bulked up from 172 lbs to about 200 and I could not have been happier.

What is your favorite memory in athletics? Wow, it is hard to pick just one. I have to pick one in basketball. When I arrived at Carroll County High School, our basketball record was abysmal, stretching back to the days of Hillsville High. It had been several years since the high school had won a basketball game. It was tough to compete in the New River District when there was not a single gym in the whole county for practice or games. So when Carroll County High School was first built with its gym, it took a few years to catch up.

Early in the season of my sophomore year, we had been close during the games leading up to our game with Dublin High, but it was only a matter of time. We were led by senior Faron Gardner as well as seniors, Ronnie Cochran, Ted and Joe Gardner and Bill Turner. We came from behind against Dublin to win our first game ever. You would have thought we had won the state championship! It was great to be a part of that victory. We went on to win 4 more games that year, 12 games the next and we went 17-3 during my senior year. It felt to me like Carroll County men’s basketball had arrived.

What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on the football field? During my junior season at The Citadel, we made a trip out to play the Air Force Academy. They were a tough opponent, but we came ready to play and we built a commanding 26-7 lead. In the third quarter I snuck through and blocked an Air Force punt so I was really pumped. It was not a pretty game, with lots of penalties and trash talking. As the game ended, Air Force was desperately trying to make the score more respectable. The last play turned into one of those catch and lateral plays. An official’s whistle ended the play, but the offensive tackle with the ball kept on coming down field straight at me. Not to be intimidated, I popped him as he tried to run over me. He stepped back and shoved the ball into my face. I retaliated and both benches emptied into the brawl. In the locker room on the following Monday, Coach Ross asked who had started the fight. Needless to say it was not a moment I was proud of.

You were a senior in the fall of 1973 on legendary coach Tommy Thompson’s last football team. Looking back on it, how special was it to be able to play for him? Of course, at that time we had no idea that it was his last year. Coach Thompson was much like Coach Ross. Both were class guys who seldom showed their tempers. Coach Thompson was easy to look up to and was a great role model for me and thousands of young men.

One thing I have to mention is that after the loss to Blacksburg in the mid-sixties, Coach Thompson’s teams never lost to Blacksburg HS again, including a 3-0 victory on a last second field goal by Joey Beasley.

How did you and your brother Dale come up with the idea for your business, Magnets USA, and how successful would you say the business has been? I can take no credit for that. After I earned my MBA from Virginia Tech, I started working for IBM. Dale is the entrepreneur and salesman. He came up with the idea to turn business cards into magnets and then into calendars for refrigerators. He started in his garage and grew it from there. It was then he started his big sell job on me and convinced me to end my 15 year IBM career and join him. He was the big brother that I looked up to so it was an easy decision.

What’s it like being able to work so closely with your brother? We are typical brothers. We have our spats and disagreements, but we have been able to steer Magnets USA through the challenges of the last 20 years. Currently, we have about 60 employees at our facility off Orange Ave. in Roanoke and are having an excellent year.

Your son David was a star running back at Hidden Valley High School before going on to a college football career at VMI. With another son that played football at Hidden Valley and another that played at Cave Spring, how awkward would it have been to see them play Carroll County now that it is a member of the River Ridge District? That would have been great fun. It would have given me another excuse to make it up the road to Hillsville. The teams in the River Ridge are tough, but so are the Cavaliers.

How big of an honor was it to be named a high school All-American by Parade Magazine while at Carroll County High School? It was a huge honor – more than I ever expected, but football is a team sport and I was blessed to have a ton of support from coaches, teammates, friends and family. Carroll County was a great place to grow up.

How cool was it to be able to play Division I football with former Carroll County High School teammate Clark Reece? I think you could say that neither Clark nor I would have made it through The Citadel without the other to lean on. We had the road trip from Hillsville to Charleston down to a science.

Speaking of Clark, were you in on the great cheese sandwich scandal at The Citadel? No, I guess I was too busy studying. Clark and a couple of teammates had a side business selling grill cheese sandwiches in our barracks. They sold sandwiches for a dollar apiece to hungry cadets. The only problem was that they got caught by one of the TAC officers and ending up marching tours for punishment.

Tell us about the time Ralph Friedgen finally got tired of the film projector and chucked it out the window during a film session? Coach Friedgen is an intense individual to say the least, and back in those days we still used the reel-to-reel projectors. They were not the easiest to use, but Coach Friedgen seemed to have more difficulty than most. During the defensive line ‘movie time’ before practice one day, he was having more difficulty than usual. Apparently Coach Friedgen was a little slow with the re-wind lever one too many times. The resulting snicker from players was too much to bear and the projector went out the window.

How much did growing up on a farm in Laurel Fork help you learn the values of hard work and being responsible? I think it had everything to do with my success. On a farm you learn the value of hard work and working until a task is done. I am convinced that my success had as much to do with hard work as it did with anything else.

What do you miss most about Carroll County? I get up to Laurel Fork fairly often so I am happy to say that I get my Carroll County tank refilled regularly, and I have to say that one can never get enough of the kindness and generosity of country folk.