It was a hot, humid Wednesday morning and Al Turnbull found himself flipping pancakes for a group of medical students at the Health Sciences Centre. It’s not a job normally given to the special teams captain of the University of Manitoba Bisons.
It is, however, part of the job description for the president of the University of Manitoba Students Union.
For those of you who aren’t students at the U of M, Al Turnbull is both.
“Flipping pancakes is part of my job description when it involves a student event,” he said with a laugh. “This is a full-time job for me. I collect a salary. I play football strictly as a University of Manitoba student. I work for the University of Manitoba students as a professional administrator. This is a job I wanted and if it means getting up at 7 a.m. to flip pancakes, I’ll be there.”
This season, Turnbull will have a number of roles with the Bisons. He will take his usual position as a linebacker, but he’ll also be the captain of the special teams unit. Called by his head coach, Brian Dobie, “one of the most passionate and committed special teams players I have ever seen,” Turnbull takes pride in his role as a leader on the unit that has the task of making sure the Bisons have great field position, whether on offense or defense.
He’s also one of the local products on the Bisons and although he had a chance to go elsewhere to play, he figured home was where the heart is.
“I didn’t start playing football until I was about 12 with the Crescentwood Grizzlies (now the Corydon Comets) and I really loved it,” he said. “We had some championship teams at Crescentwood although in my first year, I think it was Peewee, we lost the championship game to the other Crescentwood team.
“I left Crescentwood in Grade 10 and started playing at St. Paul’s High School and played three years there. In Grade 11, we went undefeated and then lost 8-7 to Oak Park in the semifinal. It was a shocker. In my Grade 12 year, we lost the final to Churchill and I still play with a number of the guys on that Churchill team here at the U of M. Evan Gill, Thomas Miles and Adam Mazowita were all on that Churchill team and they still give me the gears about it. But it’s fun. It allows us to recall our days as high school stars (laughing).”
When Turnbull joined the Bisons in 2009, times were much different than they are today. The Bisons team that won the Vanier Cup in 2007 was loaded with older players who had finished five years of junior and then joined the Bisons. Many were in their fourth or fifth year of eligibility when the Bisons won the national championship and some were nearly 30.
It was a number of complaints from the Ontario schools that forced the CIS to change its rules of eligibility. Now, portions of a player’s junior career count toward his university eligibility. In fact, this year’s starting quarterback at the U of M, Jordan Yantz, has finished his outstanding junior career and has only two years of eligibility in the CIS.
“It was right at the beginning of the rule change when I entered the U of M,” Turnbull said. “That year, I was 18 and my middle linebacker was Jim Jeavons. He was 29. He looked at me in training camp and growled, ‘How old are you?’ I said, ‘I’m 18,’ He laughed and said, ‘I’m old enough to be your dad.’ It’s changed now, but when I started, there were all sorts of rookie games and old fashioned hazing and I was a boy playing with men. the new rules have certainly changed the game.”
Indeed. At 22, Turnbull is now the second longest-standing member of the Bisons defense, next to DB David Farrior.
“Throughout high school, I was a linebacker and my twin brother, Reg, was a fullback and defensive end,” Turnbull explained. “When I graduated from St. Paul’s, I didn’t think I’d have a football future. I’d become a pretty good rugby player and was a member of the Canada Cup team and kind of thought I’d just play rugby. Then, when I was on a tour with Team Manitoba Rugby, I got a call from UBC and then a call from Coach Dobie.
“Back then, Coach Dobie was telling his recruits that a new stadium was coming, that it was in the works and we should give Manitoba a shot. That was one of his hooks. It’s amazing. It’s taken a while and I don’t know how Coach Dobie knew a stadium would be built, but here we are.”
Al Turnbull is a bit of a U of M Renaissance Man. He’s president of UMSU, a football captain, a great student and soon to be in law school. He’l graduate with his BA in December.
“I always had a goal to get to law school,” Turnbull said with a smile. “I’m just completing a BA with a double major in political science and linguistics. I know how difficult it is to get into law school so a couple of years ago I got involved in student government. Last year I was president of the Faculty of Arts and figured that to pump my resume and build some tangible skills, I’d run for president UMSU. It’s going to be a busy September and October.”