Johnel Turner was better known for having a bad attitude than a good passing arm when he arrived at Oxnard High two years ago.
"He was kind of a spoiled brat when he first came here," Coach Jack Davis said. "He wouldn't go to class and he was belligerent."
So Davis naturally had doubts about reshaping the entire Oxnard offense this season around Turner, a junior. And he was more concerned with Turner's maturity than with his ability.
Turner's ability to run and pass the football has never been in question.
"The talent he had was obvious when he came here," Davis said. "We had to rush him up last year and put him in because we needed a quarterback."
Davis and his son, Joe, Oxnard's offensive coordinator, quickly went to work on reshaping Turner's attitude.
Their efforts paid off last season when Turner, an All-Channel League second-team selection, passed for 1,128 yards and rushed for 455 yards.
"Football was a tool to turn him around," Davis said. "He sees now that he has a chance to go on in football and he wants that chance.
"He didn't dream when he came here. Now he has dreams."
Based on Turner's talent and the personnel at running back, Davis implemented the wishbone offense this season. Davis had little to lose by dumping the I formation following Oxnard's 3-7 finish last season after going 10-1 in 1986.
In addition to Turner, however, Davis needed to have speed in the backfield to make the wishbone work.
He has plenty of quickness in running backs Walter Bell and Bryant Taylor, the team's leading rusher last year with 541 yards. In addition, James Gaston, Richard Haser, Landry Wofford and Richard Alvarez have moved from wide receiver to halfback.
Davis says this is the best junior class in school history, led by Turner and Taylor. While the offensive line may be the question mark in the scheme, Oxnard has two standouts in guard Brent Jacques (6-2, 245) and tackle Brian Farris (6-3, 255).
"All of these kids are exceptional athletes," Davis said. "Turner and Taylor have already been pinpointed as Pac-10-type players."
Oxnard has capitalized on the ability of Turner (6-0, 185) in its first three games. The quarterback has rushed for 353 yards in 32 carries and has scored a touchdown in each of the team's three games. Oxnard (2-1) is averaging 402 yards a game on offense.
"One reason for going to the wishbone was because of Johnel," Davis said. "Although he is a good passer, we didn't think we could go undefeated with him throwing the football. With the wishbone, we can use Johnel's ability as a runner."
Oxnard suffered a 26-25 defeat to Channel Islands last week, ending any speculation about an undefeated season. Turner had his usual consistent game, however, rushing for 117 yards in 15 carries. He had a 70-yard touchdown run and completed 3 of 11 passes for 86 yards.
Turner's adroitness at running the football has not gone unnoticed. Nebraska recruiting coordinator Dave Gillespie confirmed that the Cornhuskers are interested in Turner. Davis said Nebraska was sent films of Turner's games from last year and will also receive tapes of this season's games.
"Schools like Oklahoma and Nebraska are interested in players like Turner because they need a quarterback who can run," Davis said.
Having Nebraska interested is just fine with Turner. The Cornhuskers are his favorite team.
"I'm leaning more toward Nebraska than a school like Oklahoma because it passes more and runs the option," Turner said.
Turner watched films of the Oklahoma wishbone to prepare for this season. His most difficult adjustment to the new offense was learning to run the option.
"Learning to pitch the ball at just the right time was difficult," Turner said. "But the offense is not really that complicated. You just have an extra running back."
For Davis, switching to the wishbone seemed logical considering his personnel.
"You need to have four or five running backs with speed to run the wishbone," Davis said. "A lot of high schools don't have that many and that's why they don't run it.
"But the critical thing is the quarterback. He has got to make that decision to either pitch or run the ball. And he has also got to be an exceptional athlete."
While Davis never doubted Turner's ability, he was unsure of his mental attitude.
"Johnel did not have a lot of confidence in his ability as a quarterback," Davis said. "Even last year, he asked if he could be moved to fullback. He's still working on his confidence."
Oxnard already has a talented fullback in Taylor (6-2, 182). Taylor has rushed for 315 yards in 34 carries and Gaston has 118 yards in 11 carries.
As a team, the Yellowjackets have rushed for 974 yards in only 107 carries for an average of 9.1 yards a carry.
Bell (5-8, 155), a senior, is one of Oxnard's quickest running backs. He is also the least experienced.
Bell joined the football team just this year after playing basketball the past three seasons.
"It was difficult at first because it was hard to remember where to go on what play," Bell said.
Despite Bell's inexperience, Davis is convinced he is a valuable addition.
"Bell is the best I've ever seen to just step in at this level," Davis said.
While Davis' goal of going undefeated has already been spoiled, he expects Oxnard to contend for the league title.
One of the best things about this year's team, however, is that most of Oxnard's top players will return next season.
"I think this team is a year away from realizing its potential," Davis said. "This will be a much better team next year."