In the popular 1994 movie, “Forrest Gump”, strangers listen in amazement as a middle-age man recounts his improbable life story on a bus stop bench in the South.
Turk Schonert could tell some incredible stories as well.
From his days a dependable third baseman at the Little League World Series, to his two-year stay as the starting quarterback at Servite High School, Schonert was just getting started on a career that included nine years in the NFL and another 22 as a coach.
Schonert died of a heart attack on Jan. 17 near his home in South Carolina. He turned 62 two days earlier.
When word began to spread of Schonert’s sudden death, many on social media recalled his first NFL game in 1981, when he came off the bench with the Cincinnati Bengals trailing the Seattle Seahawks 21-0 and rallied them to a 27-21 victory.
That may have represented the mountaintop of Schonert’s athletic career, but there were many peaks on other side of that September day.
His former teammate in Cincinnati, wide receiver and current NBC television analyst Cris Collinsworth, remembered Schonert for his confidence.
“Whether it was on the golf course, or in a game, or just life in general, he thought he was going to win,” Collinsworth told Bengals.com. “He thought he was going to make the next play. He thought that he was going make the next putt. He just had this contagious confidence to him. He made us all feel that way a little bit and gave us all sort of a lift.”
Schonert’s competitive level first came into view when he helped his teammates from Garden Grove reach the 1968 Little League World Series in at Williamsport, Pa., becoming the first team from Orange County to reach that destination.
Five years later, he won the starting quarterback job at Servite.
Schonert led the Friars to an 8-2-1 record his junior year, missing out on the Angelus League title after a 3-0 loss to St. Paul. Schonert led Servite to a first-round playoff win against Redlands, however, throwing two touchdowns passes and kicking a 27-yard field goal with 1:59 remaining in the 23-14 victory.
Schonert came back his senior year under new coach Ken Visser and led the Friars to their first league championship in seven years.
Schonert went on to Stanford, arriving the same year as legendary head coach Bill Walsh. His best season came in 1979, when he completed 67 percent of his passes for 19 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. He was the school’s third consecutive NCAA passing leader.
Schonert was drafted in the ninth round by the Chicago Bears, but didn’t play until he landed in Cincinnati a year later.
It was the first game of the season when he was summoned to replace the struggling starter.
Schonert fumbled his first snap and the Seahawks recovered.
“I was cool when I went into the game,” Schonert told reporters after that game. “When I fumbled, all I wanted to do was get back in there.”
Schonert was given another chance and led the Bengals to victory. The following week, he was back on the sideline and would throw just one pass the rest of the season.
Cincinnati went on to reach the Super Bowl that year, and many credit that season-opening win with giving the Bengals the impetus.