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Kevin Turner Golf Benefit attracts teammates, friends

Keith Cantrell (left) and former Alabama quarterback Gary Hollingsworth present plaques to Kevin Turner during Friday’s 18th annual Kevin Turner Golf Benefit. (Staff Photo)

By Tim Gayle
RRS Correspondent
(May 2, 2015)

PRATTVILLE – It was a poignant moment, one Gary Hollingsworth kept hoping to experience throughout Friday.

Called in to serve as a guest host for the 18th annual Kevin Turner Golf Benefit, he kept hoping Turner would be able to make the journey from his Birmingham home to the Prattville Country Club.

Turner, in a well-documented struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, missed the golf tournament for the first time last year but finally arrived on Friday just before 1 p.m., a few minutes after the golfers had hit the course for the afternoon round of the tournament and just minutes before Hollingsworth had to depart to catch his son’s doubleheader in the state baseball playoffs.

The two former University of Alabama teammates shared a few moments together before Hollingsworth traveled to Gadsden to watch his son Steven’s Cullman High team dispose of Southside High in the 6A state quarterfinals. Turner, meanwhile, managed to visit with the few of the golfers before leaving.

For Hollingsworth, the opportunity to serve as the tournament’s inaugural guest host, a move implemented as Turner’s health deteriorates, was an easy choice.

“I’ve had the opportunity to come down and play in a few of them over the years, whenever Kevin called and said I’ve got this going on and would love to have you,” Hollingsworth said. “Just knowing Kevin since 1987 and what kind of person he is, for Keith (Cantrell) to call and said this is what we want you to do. I could think of no bigger honor for me than to be able to come down and be part of this.”

Cantrell, who started the tournament in 1998 at the urging of Turner as a way to provide for the Prattville YMCA’s Coach A Child Scholarship Fund, said the tournament boasted a record 54 teams this year, straining the Prattville Country Club’s ability to squeeze the event into one day at one course. He said Hollingsworth was the logical choice to fill in for Turner at the event this year.

“That’s pretty cool,” Cantrell said. “It took him all of two seconds to say ‘I’m in,’ and it’s really not about us, it’s about Kevin. They’re friends, battle warriors together, and this is just another one of those battles.”

Moments like Friday’s meeting between old college friends are harder and harder to line up for Turner, the former Prattville High, Alabama and National Football League fullback who was diagnosed in 2010 with the crippling disease for which there is no cure. Turner continues to maintain his dedicated search to find a cure for the disease, but is now confined to a wheelchair, has lost the use of his arms and hands and struggles to communicate.

Much of his work through the Kevin Turner Foundation is now handled by former teammates such as Hollingsworth, Craig Sanderson (the vice-president of Turner’s foundation) and Mark McMillian, who launched his inaugural celebrity golf tournament last October in Arizona to benefit the foundation.

That extended family steps in to help Turner’s family at such events. As always, Turner’s father Raymond was on hand for the golf tournament and Kevin’s son Nolan, a defensive back at Vestavia Hills, traveled down to participate in the event.

For Hollingsworth, the general manager for a pair of Cavalier Home Builders plants in Addison, the trip to Prattville generated plenty of conversation about his playing days with Turner, particularly on the Southeastern Conference championship team of 1989. That team, using the tactics of offensive coordinator Homer Smith, was ahead of its time in utilizing tailback Siran Stacy, Turner and tight end Lamonde Russell as receiving weapons, Hollingsworth said.

“We worked a bunch with play-action stuff to make it mimic that running play,” he explained. “Linebackers in the SEC, then, were recruited to stop the run. They weren’t recruited to play in space. So you’d get Siran out, you’d get Lamonde out, you’d get Kevin out and it was truly a three-on-two fastbreak. All of a sudden, a five-yard pass turns into a 20-yard gain.

“We threw to windows. (Receivers) knew, based on coverage, to break a route off to stay in that window. That’s one of the things that made defenses hard to defend us.”

Hollingsworth remains the only quarterback from the 1900s among the passing leaders in school history because offenses have transformed so much over the past two decades. The Hamilton High product set school records in attempts, completions and passing yards during that magical year of 1989, something that didn’t carry over to 1990 when new head coach Gene Stallings arrived.

“It was hard because we went from throwing the ball from our 5-yard line – and we led the SEC in scoring that year – to our offensive team goal was to score 17 points,” Hollingsworth said. “It was a mathematical deal that if we scored 17 points, we would win ‘X’ amount of games. The more interceptions I threw, the fewer times we threw it. It turned into a chess game with what (Stallings) called hidden yards, which was penalty yards and punting average between the two kickers. We started trying to win the hidden yardage game.

“It was a totally different mindset from ’89 to ’90 in terms of what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. In 1989, we were going to outscore teams; in 1990, we were going to play defense and be really good on special teams. And Gary, don’t you and the offense lose it for us.”

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