They didn’t realize it at the time, but the New Orleans Saints began recruiting guard Landon Turner when he was 14 years old.
Eight years later, the first-team All-American from North Carolina might be the biggest prize in the Saints’ 2016 class of undrafted free agents.
“I feel like it was meant to be, for sure,” said Turner, a native of Harrisonburg, Virginia, who visited the Saints' practice facility as a freshman in high school during the spring of 2008.
Turner and a group of about 20 high school athletes visited the Gulf South during a trip arranged by his mom and stepdad to aid with the Hurricane Katrina recovery.
They helped to refurbish some little league baseball fields in Long Beach, Mississippi. And Turner’s mom, Dawn Womack, planned a special reward at the end of the week. Through a series of phone calls, she was able to arrange for a tour of the Saints facility that was guided by former safety Usama Young.
Turner and his mom said the kids cherished the experience.
“It was something real special for us, and it’s kind of funny to me that it’s kind of come full circle,” said Turner, who wasn’t afraid to admit that he pictured this very possibility way back then.
“You know, I did, I really did,” Turner said. “I’ve been dreaming about playing in the NFL since I was in first grade. So to kind of see it and feel it, I was like, ‘I could get used to this.’
“And sure enough, I’m about to start my career there.”
Turner should keep thinking big. Because the powerful 6-foot-4, 330-pounder has a great chance to compete for a key role on the Saints this year.
The Saints have less experience at guard than any other position on the roster, with Tim Lelito, Senio Kelemete and tackle/guard Andrus Peat expected to compete for starting jobs. The Saints had their eyes on a couple of guards that went late in the first round, but they never end up drafting one.
“The draft process didn’t end the way I expected it to. I would be a liar if I said there wasn’t any disappointment,” said Turner, a three-year starter at right guard at North Carolina, who was projected by many analysts as a Day 3 pick. “But I’m very positive and I’m very, very excited to be part of the Saints organization. So the disappointment certainly didn’t last long.
“I got to celebrate with my family, and I’ve got an opportunity, and I’m gonna make the most of it.”
Turner's group made two trips to Mississippi in high school -- the second time, they got to tear down a house. And he was proud to label himself as one of the “original members” of the “Streaks Serve the 'Burg” group that Dawn started with her husband Chris to have high school athletes serve the community. (Streaks is short for Harrisonburg’s high school nickname, the Blue Streaks).
Dawn said her son has been “community-minded ever since I can remember.”
“I’ve never felt like helping people is a drag in any way,” Turner said. “It’s always such a rewarding experience to be altruistic, and to serve other people with needs, because you’re serving something bigger than yourself. Maybe not everyone feels that way, but that’s just the way I was raised, and it’s important to me.”