A different David Palmer embraces his servant leadership role

David Palmer was one of the most electrifying athletes of a generation when he played at Alabama in the early 1990s.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. And while few have ever mastered the moves David Palmer had on the gridiron, the next highest form of flattery might be taking his moniker.

“The Deuce” was a unique player, both at Jackson-Olin High and at the University of Alabama in the early 1990s. And while there’s never been another quite like him, there have been plenty of players that adopted the jersey number in hopes of generating a comparison.

“Back when we were playing ball, we didn’t have a lot of teams in the inner city and people playing multiple positions,” Palmer observed. “There were a lot of people who say I invented the Wildcat. We were doing things in high school that they’re doing nowadays. It was a great opportunity my high school coaches gave me because they saw the ability I had. They gave me the opportunity to showcase my talent to the world. And when I got to Alabama, Coach (Gene) Stallings saw it in me so he gave me the opportunity to do it.”

Palmer and former Crimson Tide teammate Sherman Williams will be the guest hosts for the 22nd annual Kevin Turner Golf Tournament next Monday at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Capitol Hill. Palmer was a freshman at Alabama during Turner’s senior year with the Tide and said it was a privilege to help the Prattville YMCA-sponsored tournament that bears his former teammate’s name.

“That game we played at LSU (in 1991), we needed a play in that game and Kevin Turner did it for us,” Palmer recalled. “After he made that play, everything opened up for us. I ran a punt back for a touchdown, but he actually got it started.

“Kevin was a great guy. Me and Sherman were young guys and some of those guys weren’t playing as much as I was, so some of those guys needed someone to talk to and Kevin Turner was the guy. Anything you needed, he’d handle it for you.”

Palmer remains one of the most acclaimed multi-purpose players in Southeastern Conference history. “The Deuce” was third in Heisman balloting in 1993 before entering the NFL Draft after his junior season at Alabama. He was the first 1,000-yard receiver in Crimson Tide history and led the team in receiving, punt returns and kick returns in each of his three seasons at Alabama, a feat that remains unmatched in school history.

He played for the Minnesota Vikings for seven years, leading the league in punt returns in 1995 and averaging 9.9 yards per return on 162 career punt returns, but never had the opportunity to take on a multi-purpose role the way he did in high school and college.

“I think I could have, but I went to a ballclub where it was already established what they were trying to do,” Palmer said. “We had some great names on there, then we got Randy Moss (in 1998). We had Jake Reed, Cris Carter, Bobby Smith, so we had tons of talent. Me being as small as I was, quarterbacks complained sometimes that they couldn’t see me out there. Cris Carter didn’t want to move outside and give me the slot position, so they ended up moving me to running back. That was it. I didn’t enjoy my career at Minnesota because I didn’t feel like I had the opportunity to showcase my talent like I was able to all my life.”

After his professional career ended in 2001, Palmer’s life took an unexpected turn. The remarkable player who had toyed with the idea of quitting football after off-the-field incidents threatened to derail his career, the student-athlete who was always an athlete but rarely a student found purpose in his life.

“After I got through playing, my kids were playing football so I just took a few years off and watched those guys play,” he said. “It seemed like the pressure (of being the next David Palmer) was too much for them so they chose not to play any more.

“After they weren’t playing any more, I chose to get into teaching. I got into the school system and started working with mentally challenged kids and Down Syndrome kids. After being at the University of Alabama and being around Coach Stallings’ son (John Mark), I thought that would be something good that I could go into.

“After spending time with little Johnny, it gave me a lot of perspective for him and people like him. I took it into my heart that we are blessed not to have all the things they go through that we take for granted. It was very special for me to be working with kids like that.”

He would take that servant leadership another step in 2014 when he teamed with Williams to form the Palmer Williams Group, a foundation created to provide youth development programs to assist and guide disadvantaged youth to overcome interpersonal obstacles, embrace family values and education and avoid life’s pitfalls.

“When he was incarcerated, we kept in touch,” Palmer said. “Sherman actually came up with the plan. I was working at a community center where I was working with kids already. I was also working with Down Syndrome and mentally challenged kids at the same time. I was able to see a lot of different things that the kids were missing in life. I just told him this was a golden opportunity for the both of us. It’s been a wonderful thing for us.

“Our next project is to move it to Birmingham and make it as big as it is in Mobile. We’re working on that right now.”

Next Monday, the pair will be in Prattville to work with a group of underprivileged kids in the morning before serving as the guest hosts of the tournament in the afternoon. The proceeds from the tournament help fund the Coach A Child campaign which provides financial aid to make YMCA services available to all persons regardless of their inability to pay.

All teams will be provided lunch prior to the 1 p.m. shotgun start and will have the opportunity to have their picture made with Palmer and Williams. For more information or to sign up your team to participate in the tournament, contact Keith Cantrell at (334) 358-9622 or e-mail him at kcantrell@prattvilleymca.org