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No more Mr. Nice Guy for Tuerk

10/11/2011
Courtesy Robert Russell Photography

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA -- When he is off the football field, Max Tuerk is about as nice as they come. Well-mannered. Well-spoken. Well-liked.

Once he steps out on the gridiron and the Friday night lights begin to flicker, the whole Mr. Nice Guy approach immediately becomes a thing of the past.

Tuerk's demeanor changes, seemingly 180 degrees.

His nasty streak reveals itself. At that point, it is wise for opponents to avoid the 6-foot-5, 285-plus pound offensive tackle from Santa Margarita at all costs. Defensive lineman rarely fare well in one-on-one matchups with Tuerk. Linebackers stand little, or no, chance. Cornerbacks and safeties, forget about it, the senior is winning that battle every time.

“I like to think my parents brought me up the right way. They did,” Tuerk said. “If the ball is snapped though, I don't know what happens to me. I turn into a totally different person. I really can't explain it. My mentality changes, or something. It's all business.''

Tuerk & Co. have recently been taking care of business. Heading into Thursday's Trinity League opener against host Santa Ana Mater Dei, the Eagles (5-0 overall) are on a roll. In fact, they recently moved up to No. 2 in the ESPNLosAngeles prep football Top 25 rankings.

In terms of being recognized as one of the premier programs the Southland has to offer, Santa Margarita was expected to take the next step this season. Many observers would not have imagined the transformation happening quite this fast for the Eagles.

Tuerk has been largely, though not solely responsible for directing the ascent. Still, the USC-committed recruit deserves some credit for the success thus far.

“You could tell that Max was truly something special from start,'' Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch said.

Given the fact he is considered a living legend in Southern California circles and has closely monitored Tuerk's development since signing on as the Eagles' head coach a few short years ago, the seal approval from Welch is about as good as it gets.

"Most people don't know this, but Max wanted to play tight end,'' Welch added. ''I didn't win any points with his family when we decided on a position change.

“I told Max this, and plenty of people, anyone who would listen to me about him playing on the line: It's like dating a lovely blonde and a world-class brunette shows interest in you. There's nothing wrong with blonde, but in the end, the brunette was right choice.''

"No question, moving to tackle was in the cards for Max.''

Under the tutelage of Welch and Eagles offensive line coach Marty Spaulding, Tuerk ended up starting as a sophomore. He emerged as a force during his junior season, and thus, caught the eye of the country's top Division I college coaches and scouts.

Despite the attention, Tuerk committed to USC in late May. At the time of his all-important decision, he had options, close to 30 scholarship offers on the table.

Several of the nation's powerhouse programs were interested in Tuerk. Go ahead and count Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame and Oregon among the many potential suitors. Most of the Pac-12 Conference schools were in constant contact with him as well.

Staying close to home with the Trojans proved to be the best fit, or so it appears. Lane Kiffin and his staff should consider themselves lucky to have landed Tuerk.

"I have talked to a number of different universities about Max,'' Welch said. “If there are 120 major schools in the nation, I'd say that I've spoken with 100 of them. These programs made it very clear to me they did not want anyone more than they wanted Max.

“I have had five coaches at a time in my office here at chool. Each and every one of them wanted to know everything about Max. We would have just as many scouts watching him at our practices during the week. Max is a talent. He will be playing football long after his days at USC are finished. He is going to make that kind of impact in the future."

Tuerk compares favorably to most of his counterparts.

ESPN Recruiting ranks him as the nation's No. 10 player at his position, No. 55 prospect overall. Tuerk is mentioned in the same sentence as the highly-touted Arik Armstead (Elk Grove, Calif./Pleasant Grove), Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona del Sol), John Theus (Jacksonville, Fla./The Bolles School) and D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek).

“One of the things that jumps out about Tuerk is that he is pretty athletic for a big man,'' said Craig Haubert, a national recruiting analyst for ESPN. “He displays very good flexibility, balance and agility. You can really see his athleticism when he is asked to pull, locate and get a hat on defenders on the move. He does a very good job blocking in space.

“As a run blocker, Tuerk can quickly fire out low and hard and is capable of driving defenders off the ball. He needs to keep adding good mass, and will need some further development in pass protection, but the ability and tools are there to work with. He displays nimble feet, quick hands and sets quickly. He also plays with some nastiness, which we like.''

And therein lies the key. Tuerk plays with attitude. It's his hallmark, after all.

The nuance most certainly helps distinguish him from his peers. And make no mistake, the greater Los Angeles area has plenty of talented offensive lineman in the fold.

No other position in the Southern California 2012 recruiting class has as much depth. Not quarterback. Not running back. Not receiver. Well, maybe the wideouts.

Bottom line: The big boys doing all the dirty work in the trenches are the cream of the crop when it comes to high-profile prospects.

"The offensive line pool is pretty deep and in the top half of that group is Tuerk," Haubert said. "There are several positives to his game that make for a good recruit.''

San Clemente's Kyle Murphy is a name on the widespread national radar. So is Encino Crespi's Jordan Simmons. Bellflower St. John Bosco's Beau Boyster and Anaheim Servite's Travis Averill, along with Lacy Westbrook from Compton Dominguez are the others.

Nevertheless, Tuerk has created a nice little niche for himself. The way he carries himself, both on and off the field, is a one of the major factors. No doubt about it.

“I'm relaxed when I'm not playing football,'' Tuerk said. “Most people would say that I'm normal, like everyone else, I think. I do normal things, homework, spend time with my family. That's just me. I've always been that. Always will be that way, I guess.

“A light goes off, kind of like a switch, any time I put my helmet and pads on. Once the adrenaline starts pumping, there's no stopping me. I live for that feeling. I'm going to do everything in my power to beat the guy across from me. Failure is not an option.''

One need not look any further than his results for proof.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.