Fort Myers high school football player Sam Turner was penalized 15 yards after his brief bow in prayer was deemed unsportsmanlike conduct during Friday's game.
The 16-year-old Turner reportedly dropped to one knee, raised a finger in the air, and thanked God for his first touchdown ever as a high school football player.
"I said 'Thank you, God, for this talent you've blessed me with,'" Turner explained to the Fort Myers News Press in an interview. The senior mentioned that he was also honoring JoJo Brunson, Turner's peer who was murdered in April of 2013.
A video released by the news site clearly shows Turner's bow in prayer lasting no more than three seconds, yet game officials were quick to give the penalty in the aftermath of a similar ruling in September that saw a 15-yard penalty given to Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah when he dropped to his knees to pray following a touchdown.
Similar end-zone celebrations have gone unpunished in the past, most noteably by former Florida Gators QB Tim Tebow who was famous for his post-play prayer. But recent restrictions on all on-field celebrations have led to more penalty flags being thrown.
But support has been pouring in for Turner and he feels good about his actions, despite the unexpected penalty. "There's been tons of support from my family and friends," Turner said. "They are proud of me that I stood firm in my faith."
The penalty didn't stop the Fort Meyers team from beating rival Riverdale 49 - 0. "I use my faith as a platform for my talents," the teen continued. "My teammates are giving me tons of support. They all know I'm a strong believer, even though it cost us 15 yards."
Turner's coach, Sam Sirianni Jr., said he doesn't blame Turner for what he did because he realizes that it was based on emotions and not any kind of selfish showmanship.
"We talked to Sam. What he did wasn't selfish," the coach said. "He didn't understand it at first. He said it shouldn't have been a penalty. He would never do anything disrespectful or do anything that would hurt the team. You don't punish or get mad at a kid for his intent."
The 16-year-old senior skipped a grade because of his exceptional grades, which he admits makes him a little smaller than his teammates. "I need to grow my body a bit," he said. "I skipped a grade. That's good for academics, but rough for sports."
He says he has aspirations to play tight end or wing in professional football one day, but is focused on college for now.