Sophomore sharpens athleticism, technique for Rutgers
Last season, Kemoko Turay leaped up to block the game-winning field goal against Michigan as a redshirt-freshman defensive lineman.
When he reached the ground, his popularity exploded and spectators began to recognize his freakish talents.
In a world where sports fans retweet videos of Odell Beckham, Jr. and athletic feats are fully recognized, Turay fits the mold. Whether it’s blocking kicks one-handed or contorting his body 45 degrees to get a sack, Turay can do it.
The Newark, New Jersey, native burst onto the scene last season for the Rutgers football team after being a relatively unknown. He redshirted the season prior, necessary for someone who began his football career as a junior in high school.
After being named to two Freshman All-American teams and honorable mention All-Big Ten, expectations were high this season for Turay. With a concentrated approach this offseason to become an every down player, Turay readied to have an even larger impact.
That has not been the case this season.
Rutgers listed the Barringer High School (New Jersey) product on each injury report this season with an upper body injury. For this weekend’s homecoming game against Kansas, Turay was upgraded to probable.
Last season, Turay sacked the opposing quarterback 7.5 times and collected 8.5 tackles for loss. This season, he sacked Norfolk State’s starting quarterback once — that’s it.
But Turay remains grateful. He still has the opportunity to play and the nagging injury is healing.
“I’m feeling good,” Turay said. “I’m out there every game and I’m playing. Thank God I’m not bad and missing any games. I can still be with my teammates and I’m striving to get better. I’m just thankful it’s not something very threatening to my season or career. I’m just trying to get better and recover from my injury I got over the summer. I’m just excited to get better.”
Suspended coach Kyle Flood knows there is still untapped potential in Turay's 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame, while cautioning that the continued progress will come when his sophomore defensive lineman's health fully returns.
"Kemoko is a guy who — his skill set is going to lend itself to third down," Flood said. "And he's not 100 percent for us right now and we need him to be 100 percent. We want Kemoko to be an all-down player. I don't want Kemoko to be a specialist, I don't him to be a third down pass rusher. I want him to be a first, second and third down player, so that he can have the kind of impact on the program that we all want."
Senior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton knows what it’s like to not play. He said the toughest thing this season was watching his teammates play without him in the first two games — knowing he couldn’t do anything to help.
That’s what led Hamilton to play roughly 15-20 snaps against Penn State last weekend.
“There’s no question I’ve been rooting for the defensive line to make some big plays,” Hamilton said. “Especially against Washington State, I was pushing for them to come across with a big play because I want to see them do well and be successful. It’s tough — not the fact that I can’t be out there making plays, but that I can’t be out there with them at all. That’s the hardest part.”
Instead of being sidelined, Turay played in every game this season, starting against Washington State for his first-career start. Being upgraded to probable this week marks a good sign for the “Kemoko Dragon."
With his injury healing, Turay thinks he can finally impact the game in more ways than just the pass rush. He wants to show off the new talents he acquired this offseason. With Turay's injury getting better, Kansas presents the perfect opportunity for the sophomore.
“I’ve gotten faster and improved my speed,” Turay said. “My pad level is incredible right now, I feel. My hand speed got better. It’s going to help me get through and around offensive lineman. I got better at reading the plays much faster. Last year, it took me a while to adjust. Now, I think I have it down.”
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