Commodores honor “free spirit” Turner Cockrell


Joe Howell

Photo by Joe Howell.

Max Schneider, Associate Sports Editor

On November 29th, the Vanderbilt community lost one of its own. 

Turner Cockrell fought a long, hard battle with melanoma, and passed away in his home in Acworth, Georgia surrounded by his family.  He was 21 years old.

Turner’s impact on the Vanderbilt community is palpable, and his legacy lives on through his family, his friends, and his teammates on the Commodore football team.  He will always be remembered for his positive outlook on life, for his incredible spirit, and for his love for those around him.

“The biggest thing with him was his positivity throughout the whole situation,” said Cameron Tidd in an interview with the Vanderbilt Hustler.  Tidd was Turner’s roommate and plays defensive line for the Commodores.  “I’ve never really seen that before.  I guess it was his way of coping with it, but him and all of his friends would be just be joking just to stay positive.  He was always smiling even though he was having probably the roughest time of anyone.”

That positivity came to define him, teammate Dare Odeyingbo attests.

“He was just a fun guy to be around, a general free spirit, didn’t let life get him down too much, and he was never in his own head, or at least didn’t let you know that he was in his own head,” he said. “He was just much more concerned about other people.  Every day was a good time.  He’d always find someway to laugh about something and was never too serious, even with the diagnosis.  He was always trying to look on the bright side of things, always trying to do stuff with us, would still hang out late into the night even though he might be tired.  He was a really good dude.  Just the kind of guy you want in your life.”

Memorial outside McGugin Center honoring Turner Cockrell.

Over the course of the weeks following Turner’s diagnosis, the Commodores and their fan base really rallied around him.  The team wore shirts with Turner’s number, 82, to honor him before games. Coach Derek Mason gave him the game ball following a win over MiddleTennessee State.  It seemed only fitting for a guy who poured his heart and soul not just into this university’s football program, but to each individual that was a part of it.

“I think about it every single day, especially during these bowl practices and finals and stuff,” said Kade Mayle, one of Turner’s teammates.  “You’re feeling tired and your body is hurting, and you just think, ‘Man, I know he was going through a lot more and it seemed easy for him to be happy about it.’  I’m just really blessed with the opportunity to be out here and hopefully honor him with the way we play.”

The Commodores go into their bowl game on Dec. 27th for the first time since the passing of Turner Cockrell, and they hope to honor him on the field.

“We’re playing for him,” said Odeyingbo.  “He’s not the kind of guy that would have wanted us to say this game is for him.  It’s just a little bit of extra emphasis on realizing how fleeting life is and how you have to just take advantage of every moment because you just don’t know what day might be your last day on this world or playing football and take a little more of that appreciation with you on the field.”

And while his players hope to honor his memory on the field, they cherish most the moments off it.

“Turner’s first summer here, we were always at the pool between workouts and class and internships and stuff,” said Mayle.  “It was kind of a vacation for us and that’s how I got really close with Turner.  He’d always be waiting on me to get back from my internship and he was always down to go get some food because we all know he hated the food on campus.  That was always a good thing to look forward to.

“Once Turner got sick I had kind of started cutting some people’s hair and cutting my own hair, and he wanted me to cut his once he started losing it in that spot from the radiation.  With my rechargeable wireless hair clippers, it took us like two and a half hours to cut his hair and he was just so ecstatic to see it when he was done.  He told me I made him look like Brad Pitt in the movie Fury with all the tanks and stuff.  I love Turner.”

Turner’s family and friends will honor him at a memorial service, which will be held at North Star Church in Kennesaw, GA at 4 p.m. (EST) on Monday, December 17th.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests all donations be made to the V Foundation for Cancer Research or the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center.