Trey Turner III: Family is ‘forever united’

Kaitlan Tseng/Senior Staff

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There’s a mother in Mobile, Alabama who was once firmly against tattoos. But now she looks at her wrist, decorated with blue ink, with utmost pride and affection. When she peers down, she sees “Forever United” written in script above MCMXCVI — her son’s birth year, 1996. Below the numerals is a small dove, also in the same blue ink.

It’s not so much the intricate cursive lettering on her wrist that she admires, but rather the young man it represents —  once her baby boy, who seems to possess those dove wings. Just before Trey Turner III flew 2,300 miles across the country to come to Cal in 2015, he walked into a tattoo parlor with his mother, Karen, for a set of matching mother-son tattoos.

Five years later, as Trey looks down at his left wrist, running his fingers along the numerals that make his mother’s birth year, it’s clear the Cal football safety is an embodiment of his parents, no matter how far away they might be.

Trey’s story begins in that same town where he and his mother got matching tattoos — Mobile, Alabama. Born Depriest Oscar Turner III and named after his father, Depriest Turner II, it wasn’t long before the III at the end of his name made him known as Trey. 

Soon after, a five-year-old Trey was on his way to becoming a football star.

“Growing up, my parents were really big on making sure I stayed out of trouble, that I keep my head on straight and I feel like they did a really good job of that,” Trey said. “Where I’m from, it is kind of rough — there’s a lot of violence and stuff. At the end of the day, I was always trying to stay focused with school and football and my dad was really on me all the time with football.”

Karen found the best magnet schools in the area to further her children’s education, wanting academics to open doors for her kids, rather than close them. Meanwhile, Depriest focused on athletics with Trey.

With his father’s support and mandatory home practices, the five-year-old boy cradling his football transformed into the starting quarterback for his high school’s varsity team. Trey’s journey to joining Cal’s defensive program began with one particular play in the spring game of his junior year.

“I threw a bubble pass to my running back, he tried to dive in the end zone and he fumbled the ball, and I chased the guy fifty yards and had a pretty nice tackle on the sidelines,” Trey recalled. “After that, I started to get all kinds of defensive offers.”

One offer was from Duke University, where Trey was recruited to play defense, but had a potential shot at quarterback. He committed to the Blue Devils in June, before his senior season, but clearly didn’t go through with it. Duke was close to home, but Karen and Depriest realized they didn’t want to hold their son back from any opportunity, no matter the distance.

“I’m not even gonna be shameful about it — initially I was like, ‘California? I know that is entirely too far. Too far, too far, too far,’” Karen said. “The more I was thinking about it, it was like, you know, this really should be his choice and he’s not going to be at home anyways.”

The three of them flew out to visit UC Berkeley for the first time in December 2014, and less than a week later, Trey —  still backed by his family —  had made up his mind. 

“When we came for the visit, the staff was great, the school was great, it was beautiful,” Karen explained. “It was like being around family. We just loved the vibe, it was a family vibe. And because we’re so family-oriented, it was just perfect for us.”

Trey kicked off his first season at Cal getting reps against school football greats like Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, Trevor Davis and Jared Goff. He had an interception and a tackle for loss in a highly contested game against Utah. He went on to play in the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl against the Air Force Academy, and became the only true freshman to play in all 13 games of the season. It didn’t come as much of a surprise when Trey wrapped up the season earning Cal’s MVP freshman award. 

The following season wouldn’t end as nicely. In October 2016, as Cal battled Oregon State, Trey caught an interception that helped send his team to overtime. But at the following Monday practice, he felt something go wrong.

“I knew I did it because I immediately took off my helmet and was like ‘Oh my god, I just did it,’” Trey recalled. “I tore my Achilles completely off the bone. I missed six games off my sophomore year.”

That fateful Monday marked the start of a long road back to the field. Cal football saw a coaching change in 2017, but Trey remained sidelined — deciding to redshirt his junior season and allow his body time to fully heal, rather than rushing to get back on the gridiron.   

“It was definitely kind of a depressing time for me at first because I was doing well and I felt like I was kind of letting the team down,” Trey explained. “I wasn’t fully ready, I didn’t feel very comfortable on it, and I hadn’t taken a redshirt — I had been playing since I got here. So I felt like it couldn’t have been a better time for me to take a step back and get my body fully healthy.”

Although it was a darker period for Trey, he was still forever united with his family. Karen flew out for the surgery, staying weeks longer than she initially planned. His parents stayed involved in the new season, when Trey was redshirting. Karen and Depriest sent their son a scripture before every game, trying to help keep his spirits up. 

“Trey was very determined to do what he had to do to recuperate from that surgery. It was a huge adjustment for him,” Karen remembered. “I prayed harder for him than I had ever prayed in my life for him to mentally just be okay. I kept telling him, ‘Baby, it’s gonna turn around. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it’ll turn around because I know what God is thinking. I know it’s gonna turn around in your favor.’”

And it did turn around. Last year, Trey was back on the Memorial Stadium field, playing football like he had been his whole life. Now, the leg he injured is stronger than his other.

“(I’m) knocking on bleachers that I stay healthy,” Trey joked. “It was just another barrier and obstacle I had to overcome. It was a blessing in disguise.”

As Trey has just a month until he graduates from Cal, he has his eyes set on training at the next level and is motivated by his father’s work ethic.

Trey grew up watching his father be the family’s main breadwinner. Depriest would wake up a 4 a.m. and not return home until 7 or 8 p.m., often juggling a side job in addition to being a plant manager — yet he still found a way to be present as a father and as his son’s biggest football fan. 

“I don’t want him to work as hard as I do to make ends meet,” Depriest explained. “I want him to get an education so he has a good foundation to start life with. I never got a college education.”

Between getting a UC Berkeley degree and juggling football practice, Trey can be found lounging with his Berkeley family playing NBA 2K. And 2,000 miles from Berkeley, Depriest can be found watching old tapes of Trey’s high school games, while the blue ink on Karen’s wrist keeps her feeling present in her son’s life.

“I cannot express how blessed I was to have a child like Trey,” Depriest said.

Trey’s parents, who never missed any of their son’s high school games, have had to adapt to not being physically present at every Cal game. But with their unceasing love radiating across the country — as they tune into Cal football games and read every article written about their son — it’s clear that no matter where Trey heads next, he and his family will stay forever united.

Contact Surina Khurana at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.