Turley, Harding Academy continue 3A title defense

by Levi Gilbert

The defending 3A state champions are still alive. Harding Academy defeated Lamar last week in the first round of the 3A state playoffs, 35-16. For senior Ryan Turley, every game left is a blessing, marking the continuation of a charmed high school career.

Turley, a senior receiver/defensive back, was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 26 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by sponsored by First Service Bank and First Security Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Turley was nominated by his former head coach, Roddy Mote.

“Ryan has a knack of being in the right place and coming up with a play when we really need it,” Mote wrote in his nomination. “You can count on him to be where he is supposed to be. God has blessed him with some natural athletic ability, and he works very hard to maximize it. He’s very unselfish and a great teammate. He’s a great encourager. He is also a great competitor. He plays with great humility and has a desire to honor God through his participation in sports.

“He pursues to achieve excellence in all areas of his life — spiritually, physically, academically and socially. He doesn’t hesitate to share his faith with others. He’s rather soft spoken. However, his actions speak with such great boldness. He lives his faith. He is extremely service-oriented and looks for ways to be actively involved in sharing his faith. He lives a life that is consistent with what he believes spiritually.”

Turley is a steady presence for the Wildcats. On the field, he’s recorded 15 career interceptions. He is a playmaker that comes up big in the big moments. He was one of the Wildcats’ leading tacklers in last year’s 3A state championship game.

“Winning the state championship last year as a junior is unforgettable,” Turley said. “The whole season we went through challenges such as playing in freezing rain at Danville and playing the most fun game against Prescott. Winning state made me realize how much I have put toward this sport, and all the relationships that I built throughout the season will never be forgotten.

“My personal goal this season was to become more of a vocal leader on this team as a senior. Throughout my career I have been pretty quiet and led by example, but as a senior, I have had to take on more of a vocal leader role. Our team goal all season has been trying to improve every opportunity that we get. It does not matter the opponent, we are just trying to get better as a team and improve every day.”

This season has been Turley’s most challenging yet. He dislocated his finger during 7-on-7 football in June. During a scrimmage at Beebe before the season, he dislocated his shoulder. For the first two games of the year, Turley was busy rehabbing and trying to get back on the field. “I eventually did get to play, but I was not at game speed,” Turley said. “I have had to overcome those injuries all year.”

The Wildcats play host to Newport this Friday in the second round of the 3A playoffs.

“Newport is in this position for a reason,” Turley said. “We are preparing just like any other game, but we have to be ready to come out strong and play a full game of football. We have to play Wildcat football and keep getting better like we have all season.”

Turley and his classmates have reached some of the greatest heights of high school football. He will leave a champion when he graduates in May, but it’s the little things he’ll miss the most when his high school football days are done.

“I will miss the week of preparation for the opponent and the everyday practices and getting ready,” Turley said. “I will also miss the relationships that football opened up to me — all the guys that I have gotten to play and the guys that I am playing with now.”

Turley also plays basketball and runs track for the Wildcats. When he’s not putting on a jersey to represent Harding Academy, he can be found outdoors hiking or camping or indoors playing a piano. At Harding Academy, Turley serves as the secretary/treasurer for Key Club, as service-oriented club. He’s also involved in Beta Club and Youth Advisory Council. He plans to attend Harding University next fall.

Harding Academy plays host to Newport at 7 p.m. Friday.