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Turay adding weight, experience at Rutgers

4/7/2015

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Kemoko Turay’s “Welcome to College Football” moment came midway through his team’s trip to Columbus last October while looking down at the Ohio State lineman beneath him. That’s normally a power position on the football field. The problem was that Turay’s feet were dangling a few feet above the turf and the lineman was still firmly planted on his.

The Rutgers freshman, just barely above 230 pounds then, was running a stunt when he turned upfield to see a massive Buckeye waiting patiently for him. The lineman hoisted Turay in the air, kept him aloft long enough to ask where exactly this athletic newcomer with a growing reputation thought he was going and then returned him to the ground in a harmless pile.

“He held me up for a minute and had a conversation with me,” Turay said. “That was embarrassing for me. I really felt like I needed to gain weight.”

That’s not the moment most will remember from Turay’s rookie season. The Newark native had 7.5 sacks (most on his team) and blocked three kicks (tied for the most in the nation) in what was really only his third year playing football. Turay was too athletic to leave on the sidelines so Rutgers turned him into a pass-rushing terror on third down while beginning to teach him the rest of the game. This fall, Rutgers is hoping he’ll become an impact player on first and second downs, too.

The first step in that direction is getting bigger.

Turay said he’d like to weigh 245 pounds by September. He peaked at 240 earlier this spring, but some of that has dissipated a week into Rutgers’ spring practice. Gaining weight is a new challenge -- one of many -- for Turay, who said the biggest test was to balance his time between eating and all of the other demands on his time. A typical day with his current schedule goes something like this: Wake up. Eat. Go to practice. Eat. Go to class. Eat. Go to study hall. Eat. Go to bed. Repeat.

In between meals, there is a lot of football to learn. Turay took reps with the team’s starting defensive line during Monday’s practice. Defensive end Quanzell Lambert is limited by an injury this spring, which is giving Turay an opportunity to get the reps he needs to improve. Head coach Kyle Flood said this month for Turay is about turning the corner from raw athlete to football player.

“If you’re out there with the first team, you better play like it because you’re the starter,” Flood said. “For us to be the kind of team we want to be, we need Kemoko out there as much as he can be out there. The reps he gets this spring are going to be very valuable.”

Five practices into spring, Turay is learning to slow down and stop the run by sticking to his assignment. That’s a constant battle for the explosive 6-foot-6 sophomore who described himself as “hyper.” Attacking the quarterback comes naturally, but waiting for a play to develop can be as tedious as trying to add weight.

He leans on veterans like defensive tackle and returning captain Darius Hamilton for help in practice. Hamilton, a former blue-chip prospect who understands the weight of potential, said he pushes Turay to make the most of every practice. The senior sees it as his responsibility to pound those assignments into Turay’s head until they become second nature, even if that means getting under his skin from time to time.

“He may not like it. It may come to a scuffle, but if it comes to that, that’s what it comes to.” Hamilton said. “His ceiling is ridiculously high. He could be somebody they talk about here for a long time.”

Turay won freshman All-America honors last year while playing, at most, a third of the time that Rutgers was on defense. His pass-rushing skills were only slightly less raw than his ability to stop the run. Turay said while watching film, he counted 11 missed opportunities to add to his sack total last fall, and he’s learning from those mistakes. A bigger, faster and smarter version of one of Rutgers’ top athletes is a scary thought for opposing quarterbacks in the Big Ten.