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Farewell to Clemson Safety Nolan Turner

ACC Championship - Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Nolan Turner joined Clemson all the way back in 2016. As a high school senior in Vestavia Hills, Alabama (near Birmingham), he had 63 tackles and five INTs. He also played wide receiver and had four TD receptions. Turner was not a major prospect though. He wasn’t rated by 247 and didn’t have other major scholarship offers.

Fortunately for Clemson, Coach Swinney played with Nolan’s father, Kevin Turner at Alabama. Kevin Turner played in the NFL and then worked in commercial real estate with Swinney. As a result, he was familiar with Nolan Turner and was able to find a high-character developmental prospect that would pay dividends on the field down the road.

For more on Swinney’s unique and touching connection with the Turner family, check out this video from ESPN:

Nolan Turner redshirted in 2016 when Clemson won their first National Championship since 1981. In 2017 as a redshirt freshman he had minimal playing time, but as a redshirt sophomore in 2018 he became a notable contributor. He had 44 tackles and an INT in 391 snaps as Clemson went 15-0 and won the school’s third national championship.

In 2019, his role expanded. Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace were the starting safeties, but Turner was a very reliable back-up and saw a lot of playing time. The most memorable moment of his playing career came in the semifinal that year. The Tigers were playing Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. They had mounted a 16-point comeback and had taken the lead, but the Buckeyes were driving with a chance to win in the final seconds. That’s when Justin Fields threw to Chris Olave in the end zone. Nolan Turner was in coverage and although Olave had broke the route off, Turner saw Fields throw it and tracked the ball down to make the game-winning interception:

After that win, Clemson advanced to play the prolific Joe Brady/Joe Burrow 2019 LSU offense for the National Championship. Brent Venables adjusted his defense to get more speed and mobility on the field. He moved Tanner Muse to linebacker and started Nolan Turner at safety. While LSU eventually broke through and beat Clemson, Turner proved himself ready for a bigger role in 2020.

After the 2019 season, Tanner Muse was drafted by the Raiders in the third round and K’Von Wallace was selected the Eagles in the fourth round. That left Clemson to rebuild at the safety position.

As a redshirt senior, was Turner’s time to become a full-time starter. Many fans were nervous about how Clemson would replace both safeties and if Nolan Turner had the talent to be a starter for a college football playoff contender. Turner proved he did by becoming an AFCA second-team All-American, a USA Today second-team All-American, and a second-team All-ACC honoree. He had 66 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and three INTs. He played 564 snaps and his teammates voted for him to be a team captain. He was Clemson’s best safety per PFF analytics.

Turner played in 12 games in 2020, but many players, particularly those in the PAC-12 and Big Ten, had their season’s severely truncated by COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, the NCAA granted all football players a waiver for an extra year of eligibility. Although he had already redshirted a year, he was allowed another year of eligibility. Nolan Turner took advantage and returned in 2021 for his sixth season.

His veteran presence ended up paying dividends as safety Lannden Zanders suffered a shoulder injury in the first game of the year and missed the entire season. Freshman Andrew Mukuba started alongside Nolan Turner. Turner had a couple injuries throughout the year and was limited to playing in 10 of Clemson’s 13 games. He ended the season with 45 tackles and 1 INT.

Through a series of unlikely circumstances, Clemson found a very rare multi-year starter in unrated prospect, Nolan Turner. As he departs, the safety position is in far better shape than when he became a starter. Andrew Mukuba returns for his sophomore season after a full year as starter and there are several great options to ascend into Turner’s role and start alongside Mukuba: Lannden Zanders, Jalyn Phillips, RJ Mickens, and Tyler Venables.

We thank Nolan for six great years as a Tiger. Perhaps his younger brother, Cole, will continue the legacy and keep a Turner on the Tigers.