Big Ten: David Milewski

If asked to guess this summer which Big Ten player would be leading the league in sacks at midseason, you probably would have started with names like Randy Gregory, Shilique Calhoun and Joey Bosa. There is almost no chance you would have said the right answer: Rutgers' Kemoko Turay.

Don't feel too bad, though. Turay's own family can hardly believe he earned a scholarship to Rutgers, much less that he's playing football at all.

The back story for the player who has 5.5 sacks and a national-best three blocked field goals is as unconventional as it gets. Born in the West African country of Guinea, he played one year of organized football -- as a ninth-grader -- before Rutgers offered him a scholarship in the summer of 2012. Now, the redshirt freshman enters this week's game at Ohio State as a feared tormentor of opposing quarterbacks and placekickers.

"It's very overwhelming and quite humbling," said his father, Vakaba Turay.

[+] EnlargeKemoko Turay
AP Photo/Rich SchultzKemoko Turay has made a big impact as a situational pass-rusher and on special teams for Rutgers.
Turay's parents -- who emigrated to the U.S. when Kemoko was an infant -- didn't want their son to play football. His mother, Fatoumata, thought the game was too dangerous, especially after he hurt his ankle during his first season trying the sport as a ninth-grader at East Orange Campus (N.J.) high school. So they steered him toward basketball, and Turay transferred after his freshman year to a school -- Newark Tech -- that didn't even field a football team.

On the hardwood, he was a 6-foot-6 tweener who drew interest only from Division II and III schools. But Darnell Mangan, who was the football coach at Barringer High School at the time, noticed how Turay was always diving for loose balls and plowing through screens. Mangan approached Turay after one game and told him, "Man, you're playing the wrong sport."

Turay and his parents weren't easily convinced. But Mangan kept working on them. It helped that when Turay joined Newark Tech's track and field squad, the team practiced at Barringer. And Mangan's line coach also moonlighted as an assistant track coach for Turay's team.

The lobbying efforts intensified the summer before Turay's senior year. Mangan told Vakaba Turay, "Just give me six months, and I'll get him a scholarship."

It didn't take nearly that long.

In June 2012, Mangan took Turay to a one-day camp at Temple, where he said Turay blew away Steve Addazio's coaching staff with his speed and measurables. But the Owls weren't ready to offer a scholarship, because they had no tape of this prospect actually playing football.

A week later, Mangan brought Turay to a Rutgers camp. Once again, he did ridiculous things like broad jump more than 10 feet and outrun skill position players in the 40-yard dash. The Scarlet Knights asked Turay to come back the next day, and head coach Kyle Flood drove over in a golf cart to watch him compete in some one-on-one pass rushing drills.

"It took me about 10 minutes to realize he was a little bit different than anybody we had in our program," said Flood, who offered Turay a scholarship on the spot.

Mangan then relayed the news to Turay's father.

"I said, 'Get out of here with that, I have work to do,'" Vakaba Turay said. "I didn't believe it."

Of course, Turay still "didn't have a clue," as Mangan put it, when he suited up for Barringer as a senior. He didn't even know the definition of a sack. But his explosive athleticism -- he won a state title in both the long jump and triple jump -- more than made up for it. Turay led New Jersey with 19 sacks and 28 tackles for loss that season, helping Barringer make the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

Mangan said his prized pupil blossomed because he "had a passion to learn the game." He would study games on YouTube and watch clips of New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, another rangy athlete who became a star pass-rusher despite little background in the game.

Turay needed a redshirt year to catch up to the college game and put on weight -- he is still listed at 235 pounds. But teammates needed no time to see his natural gifts.

"You could tell right from the beginning," senior defensive end David Milewski said. "The way he could bend around a tackle, how low he could get and stay balanced. I can't even try to make the moves that he can. How powerful and how quickly he can do it, it’s just incredible to see."

Rutgers has put his freak skills to great use on the field goal block team, creating some indelible images such as this one. He helped save the Scarlet Knights' 26-24 win against Michigan by turning away a Matt Wile 55-yard attempt late in the fourth quarter.

"I remember seeing a picture of it after, and I remember the guy’s thighs being higher than our offensive linemen," Wile said. "That guy got up pretty high."

As his sacks total indicates, Turay has also excelled in his role as a situational pass-rusher. But he has yet to start a game for Rutgers this season, and still needs to develop into an every-down player who can also stop the run. Flood wants to manage the hype surrounding his young star; Rutgers declined to make Turay available for this story or to any other national outlet, although he is allowed to speak with local reporters.

"He's got all the skills you'd want in an elite pass-rusher," Flood said. "But he's not a finished product by any means."

If a raw Turay can lead the Big Ten in sacks at midseasaon, it's a real mind-bender to imagine what he will become.

Rutgers spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
5:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books, and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • Nova separates from the pack: The big story going into spring practice was Rutgers' three-way quarterback competition. Senior Gary Nova would start if the season began today. That shouldn't be a surprise, as Nova has 28 career starts while junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano have never taken a college snap. But Nova will have to show that he's improved from a rocky 2013 season.
  • The Peoples champion: Running back Desmon Peoples hasn't played a huge role so far in his Scarlet Knights career, but he could be in line for a lot of carries this fall. He had a standout spring and gained 85 yards and scored two touchdowns in the spring game. He's only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, but his quickness could make him a nice complement to starting tailback Paul James, who was out this spring with an injury.
  • D-line is fine: Darius Hamilton closed last season on a tear and did more damage during spring practice. The junior defensive tackle has become a leader on defense. Julian Pinnix-Odrick returned from a torn ACL, and he showed his ability this spring. Senior defensive end David Milewski won a team award for his mental toughness and hustle during spring ball, and redshirt freshman Kemoko Turay looks like a promising pass rusher. Rutgers' defensive line is small by Big Ten standards, but this should be an area of strength for the Scarlet Knights.
Three questions for the fall
  • Opening the Fridge: The vanilla play calling of the spring game didn't tell us much about how new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen's attack will look -- and Friedgen wasn't even at the game because of kidney stones. There's no question that the Scarlet Knights need more consistency and explosiveness on offense, and that side of the ball has been overhauled -- not just with Friedgen but new offensive line coach Mitch Browning. With the whole O-line back and an experienced quarterback, there's no real reason not to see major improvement -- especially in a ground game that averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last season (95th in the FBS).
  • More playmakers on offense: For Friedgen's offense to work, Nova will need to feed the ball to playmakers. Rutgers has some good ones in guys like James and receivers Leonte Carroo and Ruhann Peele. But with Peele and Carroo out for the spring game, the team's lack of depth at wideout was exposed by several drops by their fill-ins. Speedster Janarion Grant could become a major weapon and not just a special-teams ace if he can improve his hands. The Scarlet Knights need him and others to step forward.
  • Secondary concerns: Defensive backs Anthony Cioffi, Nadir Barnwell and Delon Stephenson all were baptized by fire last year as true freshmen -- and they were burned often. Rutgers' pass defense ranked No. 120 in the FBS a year ago. The cornerback situation shouldn't be as desperate as it was at times last season, and the experience should make the trio much better. But there still is a lot to prove, and finding the right mix in the secondary will be a big key for new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.
One way-too-early prediction

With an unforgiving inaugural Big Ten schedule that includes crossover games against Nebraska and Wisconsin along with East Division powers Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan -- plus nonconference road games at Washington State and Navy -- the Scarlet Knights will finish with a losing record and miss a bowl game for just the second time since 2005.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive lines.

Illinois: This is a significant concern for the Illini, especially after the recent departure of Houston Bates, who started last season at the Leo (defensive end/outside linebacker) spot. Illinois also loses its other starting defensive end, Tim Kynard. The team will rely heavily on junior-college players such as Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu, but it also needs holdovers like Dawuane Smoot and Paul James III to step up on the perimeter. Illinois returns more experience inside with Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell, but there should be plenty of competition, especially with the juco arrivals, after finishing 116th nationally against the run.

Indiana: The anticipated move to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Brian Knorr creates a different dynamic for the line this spring. Indiana must identify options at the all-important nose tackle spot, and possibilities include sophomores Ralphael Green and Darius Latham, both of whom are big bodies. Nick Mangieri had a nice sophomore season and should be in the mix for a starting job on the perimeter (end or outside linebacker), while David Kenney could be a good fit as a 3-4 end. Defensive end Ryan Phillis is the team's most experienced lineman, and Zack Shaw also has some starting experience.

Iowa: This group should be the strength of the defense as Iowa returns three full-time starters -- tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, and end Drew Ott -- as well as Mike Hardy, who started the second half of the season opposite Ott. End Dominic Alvis departs, but Iowa brings back almost everyone else from a line that allowed only eight rushing touchdowns in 2013. Junior Darian Cooper could have a bigger role and push for more playing time inside, and Nate Meier provides some depth on the perimeter after recording two sacks in 2013. Iowa is in good shape here.

Maryland: The Terrapins employ a 3-4 scheme and appear to be in good shape up front, as reserve Zeke Riser is the only rotation player to depart. Andre Monroe leads the way at defensive end after an excellent junior season in which he led Maryland in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17). Quinton Jefferson started at defensive end last season and recorded three sacks. There should be some good competition this spring at nose tackle between Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo, both of whom had more than 30 tackles last season. The challenge is building greater depth with players such as end Roman Braglio.

Michigan: If the Wolverines intend to make a big step in 2014, they'll need more from the front four, which didn't impact games nearly enough last fall. Michigan's strength appears to be on the edges as veteran Frank Clark returns after starting every game in 2013 and recording a team-high 12 tackles for loss. Brennen Beyer, who started the second half of last season, is back at the other end spot, and Michigan has depth with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. There are more questions inside as Willie Henry, Chris Wormley and others compete for the starting job. Young tackles such as Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst Jr. also are in the mix, and Ondre Pipkins should be a factor when he recovers from ACL surgery.

Michigan State: The Spartans return the best defensive end tandem in the league as Shilique Calhoun, a second-team All-American in 2013, returns alongside Marcus Rush, one of the Big Ten's most experienced defenders. Joel Heath, Brandon Clemons and others provide some depth on the perimeter. It's a different story inside as MSU loses both starters (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover), as well as reserve Mark Scarpinato. Damon Knox, James Kittredge and Lawrence Thomas, who has played on both sides of the ball, are among those who will compete for the starting tackle spots. If Malik McDowell signs with MSU, he could work his way into the rotation.

Minnesota: Defensive tackles like Ra'Shede Hageman don't come around every year, and he leaves a big void in the middle of Minnesota's line. The Gophers will look to several players to replace Hageman's production, including senior Cameron Botticelli, who started opposite Hageman last season. Other options at tackle include Scott Ekpe and Harold Legania, a big body at 308 pounds. Minnesota is in much better shape at end with Theiren Cockran, arguably the Big Ten's most underrated defensive lineman. Cockran and Michael Amaefula both started every game last season, and Alex Keith provides another solid option after recording five tackles for loss in 2013.

Nebraska: Other than MSU's Calhoun, Nebraska returns the most dynamic defensive lineman in the league in Randy Gregory, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his first FBS season. If the Huskers can build around Gregory, they should be very stout up front this fall. Nebraska won't have Avery Moss, suspended for the 2014 season, and players such as Greg McMullen and junior-college transfer Joe Keels will compete to start opposite Gregory. The competition inside should be fascinating as junior Aaron Curry and sophomore Vincent Valentine both have starting experience, but Maliek Collins came on strong at the end of his first season and will push for a top job.

Northwestern: It will be tough to get a clear picture of this group in the spring because of several postseason surgeries, but Northwestern should be fine at defensive end despite the loss of Tyler Scott. Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson all have significant experience and the ability to pressure quarterbacks. Odenigbo, who had 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman, could become a star. The bigger questions are inside as Northwestern must build depth. Sean McEvilly is a solid option but must stay healthy. Chance Carter and Max Chapman are among those competing for starting jobs at tackle.

Ohio State: A total mystery last spring, the defensive line should be one of Ohio State's strengths in 2014. Noah Spence and Joey Bosa could become the Big Ten's top pass-rushing tandem, and the Buckeyes have depth there with Jamal Marcus, Adolphus Washington and others. Returning starter Michael Bennett is back at defensive tackle, and while Joel Hale might move to offense, there should be enough depth inside with Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter and Washington, who could slide inside. Nose tackle is the only question mark, but new line coach Larry Johnson inherits a lot of talent.

Penn State: Like the rest of the Lions defense, the line struggled at times last season and now much replace its top player in tackle DaQuan Jones. The new coaching staff has some potentially good pieces, namely defensive end Deion Barnes, who won 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors but slumped as a sophomore. Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan could form a dangerous pass-rushing tandem, but they'll need support on the inside, where there should be plenty of competition. Austin Johnson will be in the mix for a starting tackle spot, and early enrollees Tarow Barney and Antoine White also should push for time. Anthony Zettel provides some depth on the perimeter.

Purdue: The line endured a tough 2013 campaign and loses two full-time starters (tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. and end Greg Latta), and a part-time starter (end Ryan Isaac). Competition should be ramped up at all four spots this spring. Senior end Ryan Russell is the most experienced member of the group must take a step this offseason. Evan Panfil and Jalani Phillips will push for time at the end spots, along with Kentucky transfer Langston Newton. The group at tackle includes Ryan Watson and Michael Rouse III, both of whom started games in 2013.

Rutgers: Keep a close eye on this group in the spring as Rutgers begins the transition to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lose two starters in end Marcus Thompson and tackle Isaac Holmes, as well as contributor Jamil Merrell at tackle. Darius Hamilton provides a building block on the inside after recording 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and end Djwany Mera is back after starting throughout last season. David Milewski played tackle last year, but both he and Hamilton likely need to add weight for their new league. Rutgers has some talent in the younger classes and needs players such as Sebastian Joseph, Kemoko Turay and Julian Pinnix-Odrick to emerge.

Wisconsin: Linebacker Chris Borland is the biggest single departure for the Badgers' defense, but the no position group loses more than the line. Wisconsin must replace several mainstays, most notably nose tackle Beau Allen, who performed well in the first year of the 3-4 set under coordinator Dave Aranda. Senior Warren Herring will step in for Allen after three years as a reserve. Konrad Zagzebski is a good bet to fill one of the end spots, but there will be plenty of competition with players such as Jake Keefer, James Adeyanju, Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, C.J. Olaniyan, Ryan Phillis, Louis Trinca-Pasat, DaQuan Jones, Konrad Zagzebski, Tyler Hoover, Larry Johnson, Micajah Reynolds, Warren Herring, Aaron Curry, Ra\'Shede Hageman, Harold Legania, Beau Allen, Austin Teitsma, Ryan Russell, Marcus Rush, Sean McEvilly, Lawrence Thomas, Dominic Alvis, Deion Barnes, Chance Carter, Max Chapman, Bruce Gaston Jr., Shilique Calhoun, Deonte Gibson, Michael Amaefula, Damon Knox, Darian Cooper, Jalani Phillips, Jake Keefer, Anthony Zettel, Houston Bates, Tyler Scott, Carl Davis, Noah Spence, Nick Mangieri, Greg McMullen, Arthur Goldberg, Randy Gregory, Ryan Isaac, Tommy Schutt, Adolphus Washington, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Vincent Valentine, Jamal Marcus, Teko Powell, Greg Latta, Ryan Watson, James Kittredge, Tim Kynard, Mark Scarpinato, Chris Carter, Ralphael Green, Chikwe Obasih, Malik McDowell, David Kenney, Dawuane Smoot, Darius Latham, Nate Meier, Dean Lowry, Dave Aranda, Evan Panfil, Cameron Botticelli, Theiren Cockran, Avery Moss, Michael Rouse III, Scott Ekpe, Antoine White, Alex Keith, Paul James, Tarow Barney, Jihad Ward, Maliek Collins, Langston Newton, Andre Monroe, B1G spring positions 14, Quinton Jefferson, Keith Bowers, Darius Kilgo, Roman Braglio, Marcus Thompson, Isaac Holmes, Jamil Merrell, Djwany Mera, David Milewski, Sebastian Joseph, Kemoko Turay, Julian Pinnix-Odrick, James Adeyanju

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