FARGO -- The trademark bandana and laid-back personality of Billy Turner returned to Fargo this week for Carson Wentz’s AO1 Charity Softball Game. He’s the same guy who left North Dakota State after the 2013 season with the following exception: He’s been through the rigors of the NFL business world.
In that regard, former Bison linebacker Nick DeLuca is beginning to learn the harsh realities of playing football for a living. Nothing is easy when trying to play on Sundays in Denver or Jacksonville rather than Saturdays at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome like the Bison do every fall.
DeLuca was released last week by the Jaguars, a move that caught him by surprise.
“It’s a learning process,” DeLuca said.
It’s a process that Turner has learned. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but was released midway through the 2016 season. The Baltimore Ravens picked him up but that stint lasted less than a week.
He wasn’t unemployed long, with the Denver Broncos picking him up. It was there where he began to assert himself starting 11 games last season.
“Anything can happen, you’re not in control of your own destiny,” Turner said. “Sometimes you don’t get to go where you want to play or what (position) you want to play so it is what it is.”
He took matters into his own hands, somewhat, in the offseason signing a four-year contract with the Green Bay Packers. He’s back to the green and yellow. Turner isn’t much for changing colors anyway.
“And I don’t switch up my number a lot,” he said. “It’s a completely different team, a new organization and I’m not too far from Fargo.”
The four-year deal affords him some semblance of security. Of the $28 million he signed for, $9 million is guaranteed, according to published reports.
“It was cool, it was a good feeling and all,” Turner said. “But I think what is more exciting is the next four years I’m going to be able to spend hopefully with this team and be able to make some memories, hopefully win some games and a championship.”
And, slated to be the starting right guard, block for one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers.
“It’s going to be fun, man, he’s a good dude,” Turner said. “He’s a great player, one of the best ever, so I think there’s going to be a lot of history made and a lot of fun had.”
When Turner left NDSU after the program’s third straight Division I FCS national title, he was 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds. He’s down to about 310, which is all about being more mobile.
“I figured out really early that I didn’t need to be walking around being 320 pounds,” he said. “I’m at the position and I’m at the playing weight and the dimensions that I’m comfortable with.”
In retrospect, Turner said getting released by the Dolphins may have been the best thing for his career. The reason: It eventually got him to the Packers.
“There are always bumps in the road,” Turner said. “Everyone goes through adversity, but it’s a good thing though. My adversity has created the person that I am today and brought me to the Green Bay Packers so I’m very thankful for that.”
Time will tell if DeLuca will be thankful for being released by the Jaguars. Like Turner, he’s had a row to hoe after signing with Tennessee as a free agent in 2018. The Titans switched him to tight end in training camp, but he was eventually released.
“Having to switch positions is never easy, especially trying to do it at the NFL level,” DeLuca said. “That was a learning process in itself. It’s humbling and it puts a lot of things in perspective at times. It just adds fuel to the fire in trying to continue to work.”
Last year at Jacksonville, DeLuca finished with 12 tackles and a fumble recovery. He played in nine games, starting two, with most of his production coming late in the season.
The Jaguars, however, took outside linebacker Josh Allen with their first pick in the draft and linebacker Quincy Williams with their third pick. They signed three more linebackers via free agency.
DeLuca ended the season on a positive note. And then got released.
Welcome to the NFL. He and his agency, Rep 1 Sports, are currently in research mode for the best team fit for free agency.
“I think I’m growing as a player in trying to develop and find out what it takes to get to the next level and continue to be there,” he said. “I know where I stand with teams so it’s going to be a matter of continuing to work and continuing to try and get better.”