INDIANAPOLIS — Being a second-round pick in the NFL Draft is nothing short of phenomenal.
Seeing significant playing time as an NFL rookie is even more impressive.
But doing so in the way Kemoko Turay has gone about it is almost unbelievable.
Turay, who has seen his role on the Indianapolis Colts’ defense grow with each game, has done his part in recent weeks to show he belongs.
“Right after I got drafted I got on the phone with the coaches here and just wanted to learn,” Turay said. “I just kept asking what I could do to get better and how I could improve.”
His progress is beginning to show.
Through five games this season Turay sits tied for the second most sacks on the team (2.0) behind breakout stars Margus Hunt and Darius Leonard (both tied with 4.0) on a Colts defense that is tied for third in the league in total sacks (17.0).
Turay is averaging a quarterback hit in every game this season and adds six total tackles to his stat line through the early part of the season. His 2.0 sacks are also tied for the third-most among all NFL rookies, despite the fact he is more of a situational pass rusher.
Most importantly, Turay seems to be absorbing his teaching points in practice and seeing them carry over to games.
“You know, the numbers are important — obviously the sack numbers and those TFL (tackle for loss) numbers and all that — but how he is playing technique is more important because that will lead to the other stuff,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said of Turay.
Turay’s early success is all the sweeter considering how he got here in the first place.
“Here” is not just getting the chance to play in the NFL.
“Here” is not even just playing sports in general.
“Here” is Turay and his family immigrating to the United States from where he was born in Guinea, located in West Africa. It is the opportunity to pursue whatever dream he had for himself.
Turay was 3 years old when his family decided to make the trek from the other side of the world to New Jersey. His mother and father both became entrepreneurs in their new home and their drive to succeed strongly affected their son from an early age.
“Ever since I can remember I have been watching my parents work hard for everything,” Turay said.
That work ethic has certainly carried over to football — although that wasn’t always Turay’s destined career path.
In his freshman year at East Orange High School, Turay first tried his hand at the sport he would eventually dedicate his life to. But after suffering an ankle injury his career in football was almost derailed before it ever really began.
Out of worry for their son’s health, Turay’s parents removed him from the sport by transferring him to Newark Tech, which didn’t offer football to its students.
So instead, the future pass rushing specialist was confined to the basketball court and the track for the next two years.
It was during a track and field meet at the end of Turay’s junior year that Nhemie Theodore, an assistant track and football coach at Barringer High School, saw the athlete he was willing to wager just about everything on, according to a piece by ESPN’s Mike Wells.
So Theordore began the task of convincing Turay — and his family — to give football another shot. The constant petering — which included a personal guarantee that Turay would earn a college scholarship to play football — paid off, as Turay’s parents were intrigued by the prospects of their son using his athletic talents to further his education.
Theodore then began teaching the naturally gifted Turay the sport he still plays to this day.
“I was a basketball player and I ran a ton of different events in track,” Turay said. “So when I started with football again it was about combining those skills and then just knowing my body.
“The day I started playing before my senior year I had a goal in mind,” he continued. “I knew there were critics that thought I couldn’t do it but I wasn’t going to let that phase me.”
Theodore took Turay out on the college circuit to give college scouts and coaches a look at the lengthy, 6-foot-4 defensive lineman, and it didn’t take long for them to take notice.
Before a second of Turay’s varsity football game action was recorded on tape, he had done enough to prove Theodore correct.
Following performing at a camp at Rutgers University, less than 50 miles from Newark, the school would offer Turay an athletic scholarship to play football.
That faith that the Scarlett Knights went a long way.
Turay went on to take the New Jersey high school scene by storm, recording a state-leading 10 sacks and 105 tackles in his lone season of varsity football. And even as other offers came in, Turay stuck with Rutgers.
During his career at Rutgers he went onto play in 44 games, including 10 starts, and recorded 20.5 tackles for a loss, three blocked kicks and 15.5 sacks.
Turay’s hard work — skills learned from his parents — was about to pay off with an NFL career on the horizon. But, perhaps most importantly to Turay and those close to him, he was able to accomplish something nobody in his family had ever done before.
“I was the first person in my family to graduate from college,” Turay said. “As I saw members of my family crying I realized the example I set from them and my community.”
We know the story from there. Taken in the second round (52nd overall) of this year’s NFL Draft, Turay now suits up for the Colts every weekend.
And although his career may not span the years that others he plays with or against, he continues to refine and develop his game.
It’s all about hard work.
“He is learning as we go and he is really doing a good job of absorbing all that stuff in terms of pass rush, technique and fundamentals and he is growing,” Eberflus said. “He is getting better every single practice and we are excited about where he is.”
“I want to always learn,” Turay said. “And I know these coaches are going to get the most out of me.”
2018 NFL Draft - 2nd Round 52nd Overall - KEMOKO TURAY