Michael “The Burner” Turner, one of the most famous names in Northern Illinois University’s football history, whose powerful running style made him an All-American tailback at NIU and an All-Pro in the National Football League, will be inducted into the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Hall of Fame as part of its 2018 Class, the league office announced Friday, March 9.
Turner, who played at NIU from 2000-03, is the first former NIU student-athlete, and the third Huskie overall, to be inducted in the MAC Hall of Fame, joining former football coaches Joe Novak (a 2014 Inductee) and Bill Mallory (joint inductee from Miami and NIU in 2013). The MAC Hall of Fame originally inducted six classes from 1988-94 (when NIU was not a member of the league), then was dormant until the league revived the tradition in 2012.
Turner, along with the rest of the 2018 MAC Hall of Fame Class – Orel Hershiser (Bowling Green, baseball), Charlie Batch (Eastern Michigan, football), Dr. Carol Cartwright (MAC/Bowling Green/Kent State, administration) and Dana Drew-Shaw (Toledo, women’s basketball) – will be officially inducted on Wednesday, May 30, during the MAC Honor’s Dinner at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel in Ohio.
“I was floored [to get the news] from Coach Carey,” Turner said. “This Hall of Fame is next level. Each school loves their own, but to be honored by the whole conference lets you know they appreciated the work you put in on and off the field, and they respect your game enough to consider you a Hall of Famer.”
Novak, who coached Turner at NIU from 2000-03, said the North Chicago product is deserving of the MAC honor.
“Michael was obviously a great talent,” Novak said. “He was a bowling ball type of back – 5-10, 225 pounds – and the interesting thing to me about Mike was, I don’t think people realized how fast he was at that size. He was a devastating combination of size, strength and speed, and he had the biggest thighs I’ve ever seen in my life.
“Before we played Alabama, we saw them on film and the Alabama defense was talented. Michael came out and had 156 yards against Alabama, and a lot of it was second effort and bouncing off hits. He did it against the MAC and he did it against the big teams too. The career he had in the NFL just shows how good he really was. I’m happy to see him be recognized and be the first Huskie student-athlete in the MAC Hall of Fame because he certainly deserves it.”
Turner, NIU’s career leader with 6,038 all-purpose yards, collected All-America honors from Football Digest, The Sporting News and CNN/Sports Illustrated in 2002 and Associated Press, CNN/Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News in 2003.
His 1,915 yards as a junior led the MAC and were the second-highest total in the nation; he also tied the school record with 19 touchdowns on his way to First Team All-MAC honors. He was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, in addition to the All-America honors. Turner finished his spectacular NIU career with a MAC-leading 1,648 rushing yards as a senior, the fourth-highest total in the country, including 14 touchdowns, as he once again garnered All-MAC First Team honors and All-America recognition.
Turner finished his career with a school-record 940 rushing attempts and still ranks second in school history with 4,941 rushing yards. His 48 touchdowns rank fourth in Huskie history and he recorded 21 100-yard rushing games, the third-most in school history. He is tied for the school record for single-season 200-yard rushing games and twice had nine 100-yard rushing games in a season.
In MAC annals, Turner ranks third in career rushing yards (4,941), third in career rushing attempts (940), fifth in career all-purpose yards (6,038), eighth in career touchdowns (48) and 11th in career rushing touchdowns (43). His 1,915 yards rushing in 2002 led the league and ranks third-highest single-season totals in MAC history, while his 2,284 all-purpose yards in 2002 also led the league and ranks as seventh-highest single-season totals in Conference history. He totaled a MAC record 52 carries in a game against Central Michigan in 2000 and tied a MAC record with five rushing touchdowns in a single game.
A Chicago native whose only scholarship offer came from NIU, Turner was key to the resurgence of Huskie football under Novak. During his senior season of 2003, Turner led NIU to historic wins over No. 15 ranked Maryland and No. 21 ranked Alabama en route to a 7-0 record and No. 12 national ranking. The Huskies finished the year with a 10-2 overall record. During his junior year, NIU posted an 8-4 record with a win over ACC’s Wake Forest and a 7-1 record to tie for first place in the MAC West.
“Beating Alabama and getting national headlines [during that 2003 season] has to be the highlight of my NIU career because I don’t think the MAC or NIU got mainstream attention before that,” Turner said. “I was proud we kind of set that standard that even now carries on, from the Orange Bowl season in 2012 to the win over Nebraska last year. That tradition [of winning big games on the road] carries on, and I think that is our legacy.”
Turner said it wasn’t just the NIU Football program that was on the rise during his time in the MAC.
“In the early 2000s, when not just NIU but other teams in our conference were beating the bigger schools, September meant the ‘MAC Attack’,” Turner said. “Before MACtion, in those days, there was the MAC Attack. Teams had to bring their A-game when they played a team from the MAC. We weren’t pushovers, we weren’t there to collect a check and we started to earn more respect. Seeing the whole conference as a whole rising up together, it was a great time in the MAC.”
Turner was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL Draft. He played nine years in the NFL and averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored 66 touchdowns with 7,338 career rushing yards on 1,639 career attempts. He also caught 70 passes for 528 yards. Turner played four seasons in San Diego (2004-07) and five seasons with Atlanta (2008-2012). He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Falcons (2008, 2010) and was named to the All-Pro team both years. During the 2008 season in Atlanta, he gained 1,669 yards on 376 carries with 17 touchdowns, setting the Falcons single-season touchdown record. He also owns the Atlanta Falcons record for career rushing touchdowns (60).
“Michael Turner’s contributions to Huskie Football cannot be overstated,” said NIU Associate Vice-President and Director of Athletics Sean T. Frazier. “He was part of the building blocks of success of our program in the early 2000s that continue to resonate today. We are so excited for him to receive this honor from the MAC, which recognizes his individual achievements and the great legacy of success and proud tradition of NIU Football.”
Turner was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015.
Tickets are available for the MAC Honor’s Dinner on Wednesday, May 30, at 6 p.m. ET, at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel. Individual tickets ($100 each) and a table of ten ($950) are available for purchase. Contact Julie Kachner at the Mid-American Conference office at 216-566-4622.