Remembering Turner Cockrell, One Smile At A Time

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The many smiles of Turner Cockrell. Vanderbilt football team photo.A personal photo of home visit with Coach Mason & Coach Mattioli from Turner's Twitter feed. Sideline photos during the 2016 & 2018 seasons courtesy of Brent Carden

Remembering Turner Cockrell, One Smile At A Time

Turner Cockrell was an outstanding high school football and lacrosse player at Allatoona High School in Acworth, Georgia. As a tight end, he averaged 25.3 yards on 13 receptions and scored three touchdowns as a senior. Cockrell set a school record with a 93-yard touchdown reception in state semifinals. During his senior year, he earned first-team All-State from sportswriters and All-Cobb County honors. According to his Vanderbilt football bio, his dad played linebacker for four years at Virginia Tech, as well as a year in the World Football League, so I think it is safe to say that Turner was born with the love of football in his heart.

Turner was a student-athlete during the prime of his life. He was a medicine, health, and society major in Vanderbilt’s College of Arts & Science. Cockrell was also a tight end on the football team. Turner Cockrell was also diagnosed with melanoma in his lymph nodes in the winter of 2017. He underwent surgery and treatment last year at M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas. And this past summer, his scans revealed that cancer had taken over his lungs. He still remained positive, and his irresistible spirit was a driving force of motivation for the 2018 Vandy football team.

Unfortunately, Turner lost his battle on November 29th at the young age of 21. He is survived by his parents, Randy and Noelle Cockrell, his brother, Parker, and sister, Katheryn. As well as a multitude of friends and supporters.

“Turner had a wonderful spirit and fought an incredible fight.”

~Derek Mason

I never got the privilege of interviewing Turner. Yet, everyone, I have heard talk about him has mentioned his smile. The most persistent comment I heard was “man, I loved that kid, he was always smiling…”

But I have the next best thing: his brothers in arms on the football team. These are their stories of Turner. And as long as these stories are told, Turner will live on in our hearts and on the field.

Extra Effort

Brandon Riley and Raleigh Webb were high school teammates of Turner’s and current student-athletes at The Citadel. During their game on November 29th, Riley wore Turner’s number as he played to honor his friend. Riley ran for a touchdown as well as passed for one, while Webb had a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Citadel beat Charleston Southern 43-14.

“Every day in the weight room, me and Turner would push each other just as fun then when we got a new coach our junior year of high school he challenged us even further. Coach Smith challenged us to go above and beyond what we were used to doing me and Turner would go in the weight room every day after our practices and workouts, it was never a dull moment around Turner. Absolutely every day, we would spend an extra hour or so just going behind the scenes working out extra, it just really shows the kind of kid he was always willing to do a little extra.” – Raleigh Webb

No Prom Date Needed

“Turner and I, in our senior year in high school, we both ended up losing our dates for prom less than two weeks out from the dance. Since neither of us had dates, we decided to go together and do all the pre-dance festivities together. When everyone broke off to go to dinner Turner, our friend Brady and I went to the Tilted Kilt in our tuxedos and just hung out. We claimed each other as dates all day and it was just a good time.”
Brandon Rainey

The Light Many People Needed

“Turner was one of the happiest people out there. He always stayed positive and always brought a smile to your face when he entered the room. There are so many memories with him that it is hard to narrow down just one, but I will say knowing him has been a blessing to my life. Turner and I were locker buddies starting summer of 2018, and it was one of those in the corner so both of us had to share some leg space. So you could say, Turner and I got pretty close.
Last spring is really when the memories of Turner really stand out. Being the leanest out of the group of tight ends, coach always stayed on him about eating an unattainable and absurd amount of food, I remember him coming into meetings just about every day with a couple of those Uncrustables PB&J sandwiches and a shake or two, trying to put on the weight in every way possible. We always laughed at this. But Turner just did what he was told.
In the Summer of 2017, Turner and I actually shared a suite as well, I’d always be coming back from my internship, as he got off a little earlier than I did, and he would always be hanging with friends, playing video games, or just being sociable. He always wanted to be around people. He was the light that many people needed. Turner always stayed extremely positive, even during his time with cancer, and I have learned so much from him in my years knowing him. He taught me that, no matter what happens, everything will be ok. I loved him he will be missed.” – Sam Dobbs

Movie Buff

A group of our friends, Kade Mayle, Drew Birchmeier, Cam Tidd, Dare Odeyingbo, Turner, and I would go to Chili’s every Wednesday night. This was done pretty much without exception every Wednesday night during the school year. Every one of those Wednesdays is memorable to me, but there was one, in particular, that is memorable to all of us. Turner would come to Chili’s even when going through radiation, and one of the Wednesdays last February, he came into Chili’s after a rough week. He still ate the chips and salsa though. The salsa is incredibly mild, but he just started sweating profusely. He along with the rest of us got a kick out of that, and it was good to always be able to go to Chili’s and feel like all was relatively normal.
I will always remember all of the movies we would go to. Turner was a huge movie buff, especially action/superhero movies. The bewilderment Cam, Dare, Turner, and I had after “Avengers: Infinity War” is something I will never forget especially since it was on opening night. It never really mattered the movie, Turner always had more information and more background than us about it. All we had to do was ask and he had the answer, whether it be Marvel, Star Wars, or something super random. He was a movie guru, and it always led to fascinating arguments and conversations.” – Cody Markel

Brother Turner!

“Turner seemed to always just exude a constant happiness and great attitude any time him and I would interact. With this being said, my favorite memory of Turner is the way we consistently used to greet each other when we would see each other. Any time Turner and I crossed paths, whether it was on the field, in the locker room, in the hallways of the athletic facilities, or on campus between classes, I would always exclaim upon seeing him: “Brother Turner!” Turner would always smile back and, with even more energy and enthusiasm, reply: “Brother Ellis!” This would happen every time we saw each other, no matter where it was, and both of us would smile and laugh every single time. We found it to be a hilarious joke between us two.

But as I now think back on it, although this became a humorous tradition anytime we encountered one another, we were actually conveying a deeper message to one another without intending to or without even realizing it. This message was that I would always have a brother in Turner and that he would always have a brother in me. Although I was not one of Turner’s closest friends, the brotherhood that he maintained with myself as well as with all of his teammates was something that was more than evident. His love and positivity were amazingly contagious, especially on our team. I’m going to miss this about Turner Cockrell, and I want him to know that, as we continuously used to declare to one another lightheartedly, he will truly always have a brother in me. Love you, “Brother Turner!”  – Trey Ellis

A Smile For Everyone

A smile can change the world or at the very least someone’s day. Turner Cockrell had a contagious smile, he had a smile for everyone, he was the light that people needed. As long as his stories are told, he will continue to live on in the hearts of his friends, coaches, and family.

Turner James Cockrell Sept. 30, 1997-Nov. 29, 2018

Vanderbilt football is giving you an opportunity to purchase tickets in honor of Turner.  The bowl game is in Houston, where Turner underwent cancer treatment. In honor of Turner Cockrell, fans can purchase tickets to be donated to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Tickets will be donated directly to the doctors, nurses and hospital staff who helped treat Turner, and other families currently undergoing treatment.

Tickets may be purchased HERE using the code VUBOWLGIVE.

Please note that you will not receive the tickets, as they will be donated directly to families at MD Anderson.

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