As Kemoko Turay reflects his junior season, he knows it should have been better.
A pair of shoulder surgeries forced the 6-foot-5 Turay to take a backseat in 2016 with two sacks and very-few reps in eight games.
With time running out, a now-healthy Turay wants to leave it all on the field in his senior year.
“It’s a new me,” Turay said. “I want to improve better than I have. I want to get more sacks than I did — 7.5 sacks, turn it to 13 sacks or become an all-down player. That’s why I said I don’t want to dwell on the past. The old past was just a third-down player. Now I’m a senior. I want to be a four-down player and be an impact player to help my team with everything in any way I can.”
Turay checks in at 247 pounds, but the goal is 255 or 260 when the season starts. With the past behind him, he has his sights set on becoming a consistent impact player off the edge.
“It was just a setback that I couldn’t perform the way I really wanted to before,” Turay said. “But now, I’m just going through experience. Now I could actually avoid and critique those mistakes I did in the past and just get better and just get stronger, so for that to get them better and be the player that I was, people thought I lost but I still have in me. It’s just the injury that kept me from being closer to where I want to be.”
When Shane Burnham took over the defensive line last spring, Turay was largely unavailable. That carried over into the fall with Turay limited throughout most of his junior season.
But Burnham sees a change in Turay after a strong offseason.
“He knows this time, hey, he’s healthy,” Burnham said. “This time last year, he was coming off his second surgery and didn’t have him until the last couple weeks. … To get to work with him this offseason and see him, not that you didn’t know he was athletic, but man, he really is athletic.
“So, seeing him full speed, not worried about getting him hurt mentally, he’s further along in the defense like everyone else. He’s just a really athletic guy who, now that he’s healthy and more comfortable in the scheme, he’s playing faster and he’s playing fast. He’s really playing fast.”
For as much time as Turay spent in the weight room, he matched it with hours of film study.
“I’m very happy, I’m playing fast, studying constantly every day with the coaches, shouldering the field and doing my assignments and going back to watch film, constantly watching film in my spare time and going back on the field to see,” Turay said. “It’s just learning experiences, just learning experiences of maturing and knowing how to fix things, how to grow. Just being a pro, taking care of your body, constantly every day. Even if I’m feeling good, constantly taking care of my body, making sure I don’t have that setback again.”
Position switches of redshirt-freshmen linebackers Elorm Lumor and Solomon Manning to defensive end were done to add athleticism in the trenches for the Scarlet Knights.
As someone who had to learn the position from scratch, Turay embraces a mentor role to the two as a leader on the defensive line.
“It’s been a lot of experiences that I’ve been through that I’m happy I experienced,” Turay said. “Now I’m growing up, more mature. I know what to do, I know how to handle it and I know to avoid certain situations that I never experienced but just all experienced throughout the years, being a freshman and now.
“So, I know a lot of stuff that I could teach Elorm and Manny for them to get better and to avoid things that I haven’t when I was younger. So, it’s being a leader.”