Interviews with 22-year-old athletes don’t ordinarily produce profound messages or perspectives on life and its meaning. But we might come to expect the extraordinary from Robert Turbin.
The Seattle Seahawks’ rookie running back is a marvel of mass and velocity, with a quick burst to the line and biceps stolen from an animated action hero.
He’s winning fans already with his play. After an impressive breakaway during Tuesday’s minicamp, teammates started yelling their approval: “The Turbinator,” they called him.
Regardless how this team progresses this season, Robert Turbin deserves that kind of support.
In a conversation after the Hawks drafted him in the fourth round out of Utah State, he sketched in some of his life’s details.
When he was 5, an older sister, afflicted with multiple sclerosis, died. And last February, his older brother Lonnie, who was dealing with drug addiction, was shot and killed in Oakland. An ex-convict named Debonair Dobbz has been charged with the murder.
And for much of the time in between those traumatic events, Robert Turbin helped serve as caregiver for his sister Tiffany, 11 years his elder, who has severe cerebral palsy.
“I started taking care of her on my own when I was 8 years old – I was in third grade,” Turbin said after the draft. “She’s in a wheelchair; the only thing she can move is her head. My role was to feed her when it was time to feed her and give her water and change diapers and put her to sleep – pretty much do everything that you would do with a newborn baby. That was my role whenever my dad was gone or at work.”
Turbin said these are “lessons in life” that have caused him to become a responsible man. “A lot of guys my age may be immature and trying to find their way, trying to find out who they are,” he said. “I think the things I’ve gone through have helped me get where I am.”
So, there were never any questions such as, “Why me?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t want to get all biblical on you, but one thing I learned in church is that God will never put too much on you that you can’t handle.”
His focus at the moment is to learn the game as an understudy to Seahawks star back Marshawn Lynch, whose tough running style is a template for Turbin to emulate.
He was the Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the year, rushing for 1,517 yards and 19 touchdowns. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll liked the idea of Turbin as a sub for Lynch, considering their similar punishing styles.
“Every day I’m just trying to learn; that’s the biggest thing,” Turbin said. He shied from comparisons to Lynch because “he’s a great running back and I’m just trying to be the best I can.”
Besides, Turbin already has a hero and role model: his father.
“He’s definitely someone I want to mirror myself after,” he said of his dad, a retired truck mechanic. “When I was a little kid, probably 6 or 7, people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said that I wanted to be just like my dad.”
So, you talk to Turbin and quickly forget he’s 22, and not some old-soul wise man who has navigated through a lifetime of challenges.