“That,” Turner says, “was not the plan.”
There is not a single defensive highlight on Turner’s film from his senior season. His coaches didn’t want their starting quarterback to get hurt, and, as such, he has not played a single defensive snap throughout his entire high school career at Mobile (Ala.) Murphy.
There was, however, one highlight that caught the eyes of the Cal coaching staff.
“My first play on my tape, I threw a bubble pass to my running back, and as he reached over the goal line, and the ball dropped,” says Turner. “They picked it up, and I had to chase the guy about 50 yards, and I just really just knocked him out at the 40 on our side. That’s how it all started. It was a real big hit, a momentum-changer, and I guess that’s how it all started, with defense.”
The Bears were the first team to offer Turner, before even the first school he committed to – Duke. Growing up in Alabama, with the SEC swirling around him, Turner says, those were the only two schools he ever really considered.
“My mom is always really insistent on grades and school,” says Turner. “She’s always been that way since an early age. That’s why it’s been, since Day One, Cal and Duke. Those were my best offers not only in the football programs, but education-wise, it was the best I could get. I had already limited myself to those two schools, really. Those have been the battle for me. Those are both great schools for education. You can get a great education at either one, and be set for the rest of your life.”
Mom, though, wasn’t the only one harping on academics. Turner’s father – who had a high school education -- is a plant manager for Tylenol, and has been on the job for 30 years.
“My dad feels like he’d be running that business right now if he had a college degree,” says Turner. “He’s been there for 30 years, and he’s the plant manager. That’s why they put such an emphasis on college, because they know how important that degree is, and they want me to do more than what they were able to do.”
Turner committed to the Blue Devils back in June, and, by his own admission, it was rather hasty.
“When I committed to Duke, I committed really early during he summer, and I never got a chance to go see Cal,” says Turner. “When I committed to Duke, I hadn’t even spoken to Cal for a couple of months. I happened to call them, and ask them how things were going and I knew, in my heart, it was because I was feeling like California was the place I should be.”
The relationship that Turner had formed with graduate assistant Jacob Peeler helped spark that relationship up again, and, eventually, getting Turner to take an official visit a week and a half ago.
“Coach Peeler had a lot to do with it,” says Turner. “His personality is just outstanding. He made not only me, but my parents, feel more comfortable with the school, because it’s so far, and my parents have never missed a football game. For them to let me go all the way to California, they had to feel comfortable, and I feel like coach Peeler played a big role in that. He’s, if not the best recruiter I’ve had, one of the best that I’ve had in my whole recruiting process.
“He’s a great guy. I don’t even look at him as a coach. I look at him as a big brother. That’s how I look at coach Peeler, because he’s a great guy to talk to. You can come to him at any time, for anything. He never pressured me. He let me make my own decisions. He also let me know I was getting offered at Cal, and I feel like that was a big part of it. I never felt any pressure to do anything. He always made me feel comfortable, and he made my parents feel comfortable, so I feel like he had a big role in it.”
"It’s like I’m coming to play with my brothers already." -- Cal commit DePriest Turner
When Turner arrived on Cal’s campus on Dec. 12, he found exactly what he thought he would.
“I finally got a chance to go see it. I saw it, and I got to see the other recruits, who were just great. I have a great relationship with the other recruits, and the coaches were just great. I could just feel at home,” says Turner. “My family loved it, and for us being from Alabama, and my parents never missing a football game, for them to actually feel comfortable with that was great for me.”
Turner quickly became one of the stars of the weekend. His fellow recruits gravitated towards his out-sized personality, his confidence, his swagger, intelligence and sense of humor.
“They thought I was the funny guy on the trip,” laughs Turner. “I like to joke around a lot, and that’s the biggest part of my personality more than anything, and that’s what makes bonds with players. I have a great bond, but the two that I think stand out to me are Chris [Williamson] and Ross [Bowers]. Ross is the quarterback that made that outstanding flip over the guy in the state championship in Washington, and Chris is from Georgia, an athlete coming in, he’s a cornerback like me, and he’s a great guy. I enjoy him so much. Those guys, I plan on them being my roommates. We’re still trying to get Chris to come over, but Ross is already committed, and he’s going to be going there next semester. Those are going to be my roommates, and I have a great relationship with those guys. It’s like I’m coming to play with my brothers already. It was just fun.”
Before he got back on the plane to Alabama, Turner already had visions of blue and gold dancing in his head. He had an inkling that he was ready to flip his commitment.
“I kind of knew that that’s what I was going to do. I just had to talk to Duke about it,” says Turner. “Duke is a great school. I can’t thank them enough for giving me an opportunity to go there, but I kind of knew, when I was coming back, that that was going to be where I was going to be.”
That’s not to say that the decision wasn’t a tough one.
“I was in a marvel about it. I was kind of confused about what I really wanted to do, but in the end, I kind of figured that California was going to be home,” says Turner. “When I finally got a chance to go out there, I knew. This was where I was going to be.
“I feel like my opportunity at Cal was better, not only the football, but the education. They have the most living alumni in the nation. For a job, I think I could go to Cal and get a job anyway. My dream is to go to the NFL, but if that doesn’t work out, I feel like I’m still in just as good a position as I would be if I went to the NFL. Like I said, my dream is to go to the NFL, but I feel like California is the best fit for me to be able to make that dream come true.”
"At the end of the day, I’m not coming from Alabama to California just to sit on anybody’s bench." -- Cal commit DePriest Turner
The Bears – after posting a passing defense in the bottom five of the nation for the second year in a row – are in desperate need of defensive backs. With Turner’s commitment on Monday, Cal now has five committed defensive backs.
Turner plays quarterback, is listed as a wide receiver, but he has the will – and the incentive – to turn himself into a Pac-12 defensive back, and he’s already started.
“They made a big emphasis on that,” Turner says of the Cal coaches. “They told me that I’m coming in to start. They made a big emphasis on the fact that I have an opportunity to play as a freshman. That was a big part. They said that I need to train every day, like I’m coming in to play, and that’s exactly what I plan on doing: Playing every day, and planning on taking somebody’s spot. At the end of the day, I’m not coming from Alabama to California just to sit on anybody’s bench. That was not the plan. I’m going to work, and they said I could come in and play early, so that’s what I plan on doing.
“I do believe that I could be a good defender. My coach didn’t want to risk me getting hurt, with me being the quarterback. I’ve asked my coach many times if I could play defense, because I felt like it was something I could do. I have a trainer right now, working with me on defense, so I’m trying to get the fundamentals down, so when I go to Cal, it won’t be a big transition.”
Turner is nothing if not confident, and that comes from his football IQ. Combine the offensive knowledge of a quarterback who’s completed 296 of 430 (68.8%) passing attempts for 34 touchdowns to 15 interceptions with a 6-foot-1, 184-pound frame, a 4.41 40 time and a 3.9 GPA, and you have someone who’s not only willing and able to learn, but a player who can realistically make the transition.
“I think once I actually get the fundamentals down, footwork, backpedaling, twitching the hips, I think I will be fine,” Turner says. “I think, once I actually get there during the summer, reading the keys, I’m a smart guy, so I believe that that won’t be as hard. I’m going to have to pay attention, and I’m going to have to study a bit more than a person who’s played defense throughout high school, but nothing has ever come to me easy, so I don’t expect it to, now. I just have to work a little bit harder than the next guy. That’s how I look at it.”
On his official visit a week and a half ago, Turner spoke at length with defensive backs coach Greg Burns about that transition, and about what the Bears would expect out of him.
“He said that he could tell by my film that I could be the guy on defense,” Turner says. “They said that they could tell by my hips, how I maneuver. They said that they get a lot of athletes from quarterback, because usually the quarterback is the best player on the team in high school. He has the ball every time, and a quarterback coming over to safety, the safety has to make a lot of decisions, they have to be able to control the defense, and by me being a quarterback, I should be able to come in and fit well.”
Work is nothing new for Turner, who just finished Physics last semester, and is set to take Honors English this coming term. Throughout his football life, he’s challenged himself, as well.
“I’ve always trained with guys older than me,” he says. “I’ve never really trained with guys my own age. I trained with Jake Coker, the quarterback at Alabama. I was training with him in eighth grade, at receiver. I was actually coming in to Murphy playing receiver, and they switched me to quarterback after I ran my 40. I’ve always trained with older guys, so I always have to work to have a step ahead, but that’s just how I look at everything. My dad, he always makes me train. He knows that this is a big step. College is not like high school. The guys are bigger, faster and stronger. He always makes sure I train, so that I’m a step ahead of a guy who may be a senior right now. That’s how I look at it.
“I’m grateful that they gave me this shot, considering I don’t have any defensive film, but I have played defense before, and I believe I can come in and play early. Even not playing defense in high school, I’m a physical guy. I’ve never been the kind of guy to slide. I’ve probably slid maybe three times in my whole high school career at quarterback. I’m the guy that’s running over you. I’m just a physical guy. Coming in on defense won’t be as big a transition as maybe some other quarterbacks, but I’m ready for it.”