On the morning of Aug. 27, 2005, Caleb Turner awoke like it was any other Saturday.
With his cleats in his hands and his jersey on his back, he hopped in the car and headed to a soccer game. Then nature intervened.
While in the car, Turner and his family heard a radio announcement asking all the citizens of New Orleans to evacuate because a hurricane named Katrina was making its way toward the city.
“We didn’t think much about it because there’s hundreds of hurricanes,” Turner said. “You either evacuate or stay, and if you stay it normally misses. This one we figured we’d get out of town.”
The Turners packed their bags and headed to Baton Rouge to stay with Caleb’s sister at Louisiana State University, and two days later Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and destroyed everything in its path.
“I thought I’d be back in a couple of days,” Turner said. “Then it hit, we were out of electricity for two weeks and my parents were frantically trying to find me a school to go to because mine was destroyed.”
With his mother a Gainesville High alum and his father a Lakeview Academy graduate, Caleb and his family moved to Gainesville where he enrolled at Gainesville High. With him he brought what little possessions he had left and his love for the game of soccer.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get on a good team because it was midseason,” Turner said. “I was kind of scared, because soccer is my life.”
Nearly four years later, soccer is still his life, and now Turner is playing at a level that could lead him to playing the sport for life. But he had to cross a few obstacles to get to that point.
When he first set foot on the Gainesville High campus, Turner felt out of place.
“It doesn’t really hit you until you’re walking into a school in Georgia,” Turner said of no longer living in New Orleans. “You don’t know anybody and you don’t know where any of your friends are.”
The one friend he knew he could count on was his soccer ball, but moving to a place where football reigns 12 months out of the year and soccer is more of a recruiting unit for prospective kickers, Turner questioned whether or not soccer was the sport for him.
Although he trained with the Lanier Sharks, Turner never played a game for them in the fall of his junior year. Instead he joined the football team and served as the team’s back up kicker.
After a season with Gainesville’s soccer team that spring, Turner was back on the football field in the fall, this time as the starter.
“I started doing pretty good,” said Turner, who went 6-for-7 on field goal attempts that year. “I started getting real strong with my kicks and I thought that this was something I could do and maybe go to college and kick.
“The thought of soccer went to the back of my mind.”
It didn’t stay there long.
As soon as spring season rolled around, Turner was back on the pitch playing the sport he grew up on and the sport he loved.
“Quickly after that I realized my passion wasn’t in football, it was in soccer,” he said. “You always love something more when you’re good at it, and I realized that I could go further in soccer than football.”
With a renewed drive, Turner had what he considers to be his best season of soccer at Gainesville. He was named to the Region 7-AAA All-Region Team and The Times 2008 All-Area first team, and with his stellar play, he earned himself a walk-on spot at North Georgia College & State University.
“I was never really sure I wanted to play college soccer, but I figured I’d give it a shot,” Turner said.
As a freshman walk-on, Turner didn’t see too much of the field during the first half of the season, but through practice and determination, he began playing extensive minutes for the Saints midway through the season.
“Coming off the bench, he really sparked the team with his play,” Saints coach Patrice Parris said. “He has one of the key elements and that’s being able to sacrifice. He’s not an individual, he’s a team player.”
And to think he almost gave up the sport.
“Soccer really went from something to nothing to something,” Turner said. “Now, I’m loving the game a lot more.”
He’s especially loving the game now as a member of Alpharetta United, a 20-and-under team in the United Soccer League.
With the United, Turner is honing his skills with some of the best soccer players in the state and competing against some of the Southeast’s best talent on teams like the Northern Virginia Royals, Charlotte Soccer Club and Carolina Dynamo.
“Playing with this team has stepped up my awareness, my speed of play and my level of thinking toward the game,” Turner said. “It’s made me a better player.”
The main reason behind that is the coaching of Jon Conway, a scout from West Ham United of the English Premier League, one of, if not the highest level of soccer in the world.
“Practice is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Turner said. “It’s two hours of getting down to the nitty-gritty, no questions asked. It’s some of the hardest training I’ve ever done.”
That training could ultimately lead to playing in front of professional and Division-I scouts at the fourth annual Super-20 League North American Finals on July 30 in Chicago. No matter how he plays, Turner isn’t planning on leaving Dahlonega anytime soon.
“I would like to go pro, but I don’t think I would because I want to get a degree more than anything,” he said. “Unless of course a huge opportunity came that I couldn’t pass up.”
That chance would never be possible without Conway.
“His coaching methods are one of a kind,” Turner said. “After practice I feel like I’m 10 times the player I am.”
That’s good news for North Georgia.
“He’s going to be an important part of this team next year,” Parris said. “I’m hoping this summer he learns how to play consistent game-in and game-out. That’s a growth I’m looking for with all my players.”
According to Turner, he’s already there.
“I think right now, I’m much stronger and much better than ever,” Turner said.