Turner Gill had some magical players. The best linebacker I ever saw at UB was Justin Winters. He wasn't the largest man to ever play at Amherst but one of the toughest. Justin was involved in the single greatest play in UB history, helping Buffalo clinch the MAC Championship in 2008. Today is also Justin's birthday!
You grew up in Greenbelt, MD, the same city where many of my extended family grew up in. How did you end up (thankfully) at UB? Who recruited you?
Yea I love this area and it made me the man I am today. Its a long story but I'll try and sum it up. I had a pretty good high school career (1st Team All County, 155 tackles senior year, etc...) but I wasn't getting the looks I thought I deserved. On Christmas break my cousin Kendrick Hawkins, who played corner for Buffalo, came over my house and I gave him my film. When he got back to school he gave it to Coach Moose and coach called me that very same day. The next week I was on a plane out to Buffalo. They showed me love and I felt the family atmosphere right away. Although I had a few D1 AA looks I choose to be a preferred walk on and earn my scholarship.
I remember a game your sophomore year where you had 14 solo tackles against CMU. Opened everyone’s eyes to who you were. But will you be remembered for being the real person (Sorry Mike Newton) for laying the wood to Nate Davis causing the fumble in the greatest football game and greatest play in UB History, the 2008 MAC Championship. Walk us through that play.
LOL I can't take all the credit. We had our backs to the goal line and Ball State was on a pretty good drive, our defense had that kind of swagger that we might bend but we will never break. Nate Davis dropped back and started to scan the field, our DB core was one of the best in the nation so there was nobody open. He began to roll out to his left and started to make a break for the end zone. I came out of my drop and I pursued him. When he tried to jump into the end zone he almost cleared me. I hit him and it spun him around and Josh Thomas poked the ball out and Mike Newton scooped and scored. I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT PLAY.
How fun was the 2008 season? What are other plays or games do you really remember?
It's the greatest season I've ever been apart of in my football career.
We had I think 5 overtime games and we won off a Hail-Mary that year. You couldn't have wrote that story in a fiction book. Another play that stands out is James Starks run against Bowling Green in OT to win the game and send us to the MAC championship.
You teamed up with Naaman Roosevelt and Dom Cook to form the Grind Hard Boyz. Are you still putting out music?
No, I'm not; I left that to my Little Brother Jon Winters. He is 10 times better than me, he actually just dropped his Debut Mixtape on March 13th. Check him out https://spinrilla.com/mixtapes/truth-promise
What was the biggest difference between a Turner Gill team vs. a Jeff Quinn team?
First of all let me start off by saying I respect both Turner Gill and Jeff Quinn. The biggest difference was that with Turner it felt like big happy family. We all had the same goals and we made it happen. When Jeff Quinn came it was a little bit different because he had to let everyone know that it was his team now and he was going to run it his way. Back then I didn't understand but now that I coach high school I understand completely.
Who was the best athlete you played with in Buffalo (besides yourself) and why?
I cant say just one but the first one is Khalil Mack. I call him my little brother, they roomed us together for all the games my senior year. He can do anything he wants on field. He is a freak of nature.
He is also one of the best people off the field as well. Next is James Starks (Big Brother). He was just so good. He practice the same way he played, you didn't want to get in front of that train. He is also my frat brother at Phi Beta Sigma. BLUE PHI!!!
What did you do after your college career was over?
I trained for a while hoping that i would get a shot in the NFL. Had the best trainer in the nation John Opfer (Performance Sports Training in Amherst NY). I had a opportunity in the CFL and passed it up waiting for the NFL. After that I felt like I was being stagnant so I begin coaching football and giving my knowledge back to the youth.
You popped up on my radar as I see that you are currently an Offensive Coordinator at St. Vincent Pallotti High School and a trainer for Elite Star Performance. More importantly that three of your pupils received full scholarships to EMU. Tell us about your School. Secondly, why are these young men not coming to Amherst?
I coached the DB's last year at St Vincent Pallotti High School in PG county, Maryland and we went 10-3 the best season in a very long time at this school. I am now the Offensive Coordinator at that same school and hope to have even more success. I am also one of the lead coaches at Elite Star Performance, Mark McCain is the owner and he also is a great trainer I'm learning so much from and I want to thank him for this opportunity. I train the Defensive backs at ESP.
Just this weekend I took five of my players to EMU to see one of my former UB coaches Jimmy Williams who is recruiting the MD area. He offered 3 of my guys and 2 of them are only in the 10th grade. It's a blessing to see these kids dreams coming true, they deserve it these are the most focused hardest working kids I have ever seen. I would love for my players to follow in my footsteps and go to UB that would make me very proud.
A message for Bulls fans?
I miss putting on that Blue and White and I want to thank you for all the memories. You made college football a great experience for me and my family. Buffalo will always be my second home. UB Football will Get another Mac Championship very soon !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Congrats on the Basketball team on winning the MAC Championship. Made me very proud to see that.
We wish Justin good luck with his coaching. If he is as good of a coach as he is as a player, some lucky athletes will get the chance to be mentored by a great man. Happy Birthday Justin. Here is a nice highlight packet of Justin's time in Buffalo: