Jacole Turner’s Spanish is very limited.
Turner is just 18, yet out on his own halfway around the world, making a living playing professional soccer in Spain.
Language barriers and home sickness aside, adjusting to life in another country has been an enjoyable ride for the Lee’s Summit native.
“Sometimes, I’ll be sitting at home and be like, ‘is this real?’” Turner said during a visit to the Journal’s offices Dec. 21. He is in town until Jan. 4, visiting old friends, spending time with family and soaking up a return to the United States. “I can’t believe it’s happening. It’s hard. It’s definitely really hard being away from home, especially in a country where they don’t speak any English. You have to speak Spanish and if you don’t they don’t understand you. It’s just been really hard.”
A 2012 graduate of Lee’s Summit North High School, Turner was a standout three-year goalkeeper for the Broncos boys’ soccer team. He was days removed from signing a professional contract with the Atletico Madrid soccer club, a top-flight soccer team in Spain that competes with the world renowned Real Madrid soccer club and the equally talented and glorious Barcelona soccer club in La Liga – or the Spanish League – when he returned home for a two-week stay.
“I haven’t been home in like five months,” Turner said. “They could tell I was a little homesick – which I was. I’m only 18. That’s the longest I’ve ever been away from my mom.”
As of Dec. 21, Atletico Madrid had a better record than city rivals Real Madrid and sat in second place in La Liga behind the uber-skilled Barcelona club. Barcelona boasts Lionel Messi, considered the best soccer player in the world at the moment, and Real Madrid counts the ever-popular Cristiano Ronaldo among its star players.
Those names may be foreign to the average reader or the casual soccer fan, but to Turner, seeing is believing.
“I actually got a tryout with Real Madrid,” Turner said. “My dad (Johnel Turner) had a friend and my dad’s friend talked to him about having a tryout out there. It’s one of the best teams in the world. I was in Croatia (playing professionally) and I didn’t get signed for the next year, so I was just sitting there thinking ‘what am I going to do?’ I was like, ‘gosh, I don’t want to go back to America.’ So I was sitting there and my dad Skyped me and he was like ‘you have a tryout with Real Madrid tomorrow.’ I got to Madrid the next day and went to training. It was just crazy.
“Atletico came to me – actually while I was playing with a team (Madrid-based Rayo) for like two weeks – and offered me a contract. I signed and everything about five days ago. It’s not so much the team as it is the professional soccer part. It’s like crazy. I’m in Madrid playing professional soccer.”
The journey from Lee’s Summit to Madrid was a whirlwind for Turner, who less than six months ago was planning to attend Barton County Community College in Kansas to continue his soccer career. A multiple year all-conference, all-region and all-state performer for the Broncos, Turner was also a member of Sporting Kansas City’s junior developmental team, and was selected this past spring to attend the United States Under-18 men’s national team for a training camp in Carson, Calif.
Turner also trained with Sporting Kansas City’s senior team earlier this year and appeared in a Major League Soccer Reserve League match for the club in 2011.
Still, attending college was an attractive option for the gifted Turner.
“I’m focusing on the positive, for sure,” said Stacy Nickel, Turner’s mother. “Not many moms can say their son is a professional athlete because it just doesn’t happen that often. But, it’s also stressful with him being out of the country so far. I was definitely pushing for college. But when this opportunity came up, you either take it now or it might not come along again, so I was 100 percent supportive.”
Tim Richardson, the Broncos long-time soccer coach and newly inducted member of the inaugural Missouri State High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame, said he recognized Turner’s potential years ago, and knew with hard work, dedication and focus that his former net minder would have opportunities far beyond high school.
“Everyone knows how difficult it is to play professionally in any sport,” Richardson said. “It’s hard for kids to make the pro level – MLS – here in the U.S. (It’s) much more difficult to be an American and make professional teams in Europe. I knew it was Jacole’s dream, as he frequently talked about it. I also saw how hard he worked to try to make it happen. So when he signed I was real proud of him. I knew he had the athletic talent to play at that level. For him, it was just a matter of working hard, developing the right mental approach and being presented with the right opportunity.”
Now that he has signed with Atletico – Turner will miss two games while back in the area – the Lee’s Summit North grad has been assigned to the club’s Second B Team. With three goalkeepers ahead of him on Atletico’s senior roster, the hard work that gave him the chance to play pro ball will again be on display.
“Now, I try to train as much as I can and try to make it to the top and compete for a starting spot,” Turner said of his immediate goals. “I’m training out here – Lee’s Summit North is letting me use their gym in the mornings and I have some friends that are helping me train.”
Richardson has no doubt that Turner will be a successful pro soccer player.
“As a freshman he came in to our program real raw, but you could tell he was very athletic,” the venerable coach said. “He worked hard, took pride in his game and we saw enormous improvement. He was also a soccer junkie, always playing, always having teammates and friends shoot on him. His involvement with Sporting Juniors exposed him to a higher level of the game on a consistent basis.
“Jacole has a very easy going, pleasant personality. He’s very likeable. So it was really very nice to see his plans work out for him. The experience he is getting is invaluable in many ways. I can already tell he’s matured a lot in the short time he’s been away. We are all behind him, supporting him and pulling for him to be very successful.”