Defensive lineman Kemoko Turay recorded 19 sacks and 105 tackles as a senior at Newark (N.J.) Barringer. He did it with no hand technique. He did it without knowing the names of the positions on the football field.
The first task for Rutgers coach Kyle Flood and his staff when Turay arrived was to teach the basics, and then to bulk him up. Bowl practices give the staff a chance to focus on player development, to mold Turay into a Big Ten pass rusher.
“Before I was just using my speed,” Turay said. “This time I’m using my IQ. I’m learning the offense, and how to beat them. Before I never used my hands, so I’m doing that. I’m trying to get faster after I got my weight up. It’s a huge difference.”
Turay is a 6-foot-6 defensive end destined for a pass-rush role in 2014. He is close to 220 pounds after six months of dining hall food and a college weight room. Making a bowl game by beating South Florida gave Turay and the rest of Rutgers 15 more practices to develop young players.
Russell Athletic Bowl practices last year saw the emergence of starters like Keith Lumpkin and Ruhann Peele. Turay knows the opportunity he has over the next two weeks, and wants to win playing time of his own.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Turay said. “Before, when I first started playing, I was just worried about running hard and getting the quarterback. This is more fundamental.
“They’re teaching me the hand movement and hope to read the offenses on offensive line. I’m doing different stuff that will help me get to the quarterback much faster, and better use my abilities. I didn’t have a football IQ before, so that’s what I’m learning.”
Former Rutgers team captain Charlie Noonan, now a graduate assistant with the defensive line, worked with Turay on the side after Tuesday’s bowl practice. Turay is appreciative of the extra work, and said he notices a difference.
“I came here with quick feet, and now the coaches are teaching me about quick hands,” Turay said. “That’s mostly what’s helping me to get the quarterback.
“People said when I played at Barringer, I didn’t have good competition like I’d face in college. I didn’t let that get to my head. I kept working hard. Everyone is a Division I athlete. Everybody has ability just like me. The difference is your work ethic. How are you going to get better than the people you’re with? I’m still learning. I’m not saying that I’m good now, but I’m learning. I’ve got the ability to be better.”
Turay did not expect immediate playing time, but has hopes of seeing the field as a red-shirt freshman in the Big Ten.
For the next Rutgers bowl game, Turay wants to be on the field and not on the sidelines.
“Bowl practice and going to a bowl, that’s kind of helping me aim my goal more, especially going to the Big Ten,” Turay said. “Knowing we’re going to the Big Ten and stuff, it’s helping me a lot. Aim for something big. That’s my goal right now. … It’s going to teach me what I have to do to get there in the next bowl game when we go to the Big Ten.”
Flood tried Turay at linebacker briefly in camp, but put him back at defensive end after a solid second scrimmage in training camp. After a semester on the scout team, Turay is happy to be working solely on fundamentals for the rest of the week.