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Falcons’ Michael Turner hits the ‘big time’

Many NFL teams are market for quality backup running back such as Michael 'The Burner' Turner. So far North Chicago

Many NFL teams are in the market for a quality backup running back such as Michael "The Burner" Turner. So far, the North Chicago native has yet to ink a contract for the 2013 season. | THE ASSOCITED PRESS

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Updated: November 9, 2011 2:58PM

In his eighth NFL season, North Chicago native Michael Turner will make his Soldier Field debut.

“Man, it’s exciting,” the Atlanta Falcons starting running back told the Sun-Times. “It’s kind of unreal that this moment is here.

“I can’t believe I had to wait eight years to finally play there.”

Turner and other neighborhood kids would play 11-on-11 and sometimes even 13-on-13 games that would rotate among parks they named after NFL stadiums, including the home of the Bears.

“It was a huge deal,” Turner said of Soldier Field. “That’s the game you see every Sunday. That’s real big time.”

Growing up, Turner admired Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton.

After starring at Northern Illinois, Turner was a backup to LaDainian Tomlinson before the Falcons signed him to a six-year, $34.5 million contract.

He gained 1,699 rushing yards in his first season with the Falcons, but he missed five games in 2009. Last season, he rebounded with 1,371 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns.

But Turner played through a groin injury.

“We were all aware of the situation that Michael was going through last year in terms of his groin,’’ Falcons coach Mike Smith recently said. ‘‘To me, it just validates what kind of guy he is. He’s a tough guy. He doesn’t complain. He’s going to fight through injuries and do whatever he has to do to be prepared.

“We think that he’s in a better place this year than he was last year, and we certainly hope that it will mean more production on the field.”

Turner said he was thrilled that the Falcons made a “great run’’ last season. But they were blown out 48-21 by the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional playoffs.

“We had a successful season, but it kind of ended on a disappointing note,” Turner said. “I’m looking forward to another challenge to get this team farther than we have in the past.

“We’re just trying to get over the hump.”

Turner said his family understands that he can’t be distracted before the game. But he did get 50 tickets for Sunday’s game.

“I had a source in Chicago that had the hookup on tickets,” Turner coyly said.

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