Hog Futures:

Darin Turner turned down champions for chance at Arkansas

By: Bob Holt Bob Holt's Twitter account
Published: Saturday, July 25, 2020
Arkansas freshman Darin Turner goes through a July 2020 workout in Fayetteville.
( Walt Beazley, Arkansas Razorbacks )
Arkansas freshman Darin Turner goes through a July 2020 workout in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Darin Turner’s receiving numbers for Memphis Central High School last season were deceptively low, according to Warriors Coach Major Wright.

“Darin got his hands on about as many passes on defense as he did on offense,” Wright said with a laugh.

Wright was exaggerating, but not by much.

Turner, a receiver and defensive back, caught 25 passes for 362 yards and 5 touchdowns, and had 5 interceptions and 6 breakups last season.

Wright said Central’s quarterbacks were good, hard-working kids, but not particularly accurate passers.

“If we could have been better at getting the ball to him, Darin would have stood out even more as a receiver,” Wright said. “He can high-point the ball. He’s strong. He can use his body to get in position to win 50-50 balls. He’s got great speed.

“Physically, he’s just a freak of nature and truly gifted with incredible instincts. He just has a feel for the game. He understood the basic concepts of what we were trying to get done on offense and defense and was always in the right spot.”

Turner, 6-3 and 218 pounds, made enough catches to impress scouting services and coaches at Power 5 schools.

Rated a 4-star recruit by 247Sports and ESPN and the No. 14 receiver in the country by Rivals, Turner had numerous scholarship offers, including ones from Alabama, Clemson and LSU.

Turner At a Glance

CLASS Freshman

POSITION Receiver

HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-3, 218

AGE 18 (Born March 9, 2002)

HOMETOWN Memphis, Tenn.

HIGH SCHOOL Central

NOTEWORTHY Started at receiver and free safety last season and rarely came off the field, but did get a break from special teams, Memphis Central Coach Major Wright said. … Had 25 catches for 362 yards and 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions and 6 pass breakups last season. … Rated a 4-star recruit by 247Sports and ESPN. … Ranked the No. 14 receiver in the country by Rivals. … Also had scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and others. … Son of Kennisha and Darin Turner Sr.

Instead of signing with one of the three schools that have combined to win the past five national championships, Turner chose an Arkansas program that has suffered through consecutive 2-10 seasons.

“With my skill set, I feel like I can go anywhere and play, but it just felt like Arkansas needed me the most,” Turner said. “I was like, ‘Why not go to Arkansas and try to help change their program?’ ”

Turner was listed as an “athlete” when he signed, but he will work initially as a receiver.

An early enrollee in January, Turner said all of his time in workouts and meetings was at receiver before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the Arkansas campus in mid-March. He has continued to be with the receivers during virtual meetings.

“Everything I’ve done has been receiver stuff,” Turner said. “They haven’t mentioned anything to me about playing defense. Honestly, I’ll play any position to help my team out, but I like receiver because I like to score. But I can score on defense, too.”

Turner said he had a combined three interception returns for touchdowns as a junior and senior.

“It helps me a lot to know how a defensive back thinks, because if you get inside their head, you’ve got the game,” Turner said. “So me playing on both sides of the ball is big.

“You know about coverages, where they’re supposed to be. I like having that advantage.”

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said Turner will play receiver when the Razorbacks start practicing, but he didn’t rule out a move to defense.

Wright said Turner played free safety for Central and was a sure tackler. But he also worked at cornerback, depending on the opponent.

“If we faced a team with a dynamic receiver, we just moved Darin over to corner to cover him,” Wright said. “That sometimes happened in the middle of games.

“Darin was our best player in the secondary. We just played him where we felt like we needed him the most week to week, even drive to drive.”

Turner committed to Arkansas in August 2019, then re-opened his recruiting when Chad Morris was fired as coach Nov. 10.

“When I heard that Coach Morris got fired, that showed me that anything can happen in the blink of an eye,” Turner said. “So I had to look at my options. I still wanted to go to Arkansas, not just because of the coaching staff, but because of the school itself.”

Turner visited Arkansas and met with Pittman the weekend before the early national signing period, then re-committed to the Razorbacks.

“I sat down and talked with Coach Pittman and really liked him,” Turner said.

Turner said it also helped that Arkansas retained receivers coach Justin Stepp.

“I’m glad that Coach Stepp stayed,” Turner said. “He’s a really good coach. He coached some of the best freshmen in the SEC last year, so I’m hoping to be one of those for him.”

Treylon Burks had 29 catches for 475 yards and Trey Knox had 28 for 385 last season for the Razorbacks as freshmen.

“There were a lot of factors that weighed into Darin’s initial decision to commit to Arkansas that didn’t involve Coach Morris,” Wright said. “So he just needed some re-assurance that Arkansas’ new staff was still very interested in him. They showed him what he needed to see when he went back to visit.

“I think that continuity [of Stepp staying] helped, but Coach Pittman was probably the biggest swing vote on that thing. I think he just connected with Darin.”

Two of Turner’s former high school teammates — receiver Shamar Nash and defensive end Eric Gregory — also play for the Razorbacks.

“We go way back,” Turner said. “They’re like my blood brothers. We grew up together. It feels good to play with somebody that you already have chemistry with.”

Turner said he believes he’ll also have good chemistry with the receivers, who are led by junior Mike Woods, the team’s top returning receiver with 33 catches for 423 yards.

“We’re big in numbers and size in the receivers’ room,” Turner said. “I feel like I fit in well with that group. We have a lot of guys that can produce.”

Turner said while it was disappointing to have to leave campus in March, the several weeks he was in school and his new teammates benefited him greatly.

“It really opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he said. “I experienced a lot of new things and met a whole bunch of new people. Everybody showed me that they care, showed me that I’m family.”

Kendal Briles, hired as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator on Dec. 23, credited Stepp for recruiting Turner.

“Coach Stepp did a tremendous job with him,” Briles said. “I was not really involved with that recruiting process. Coach Stepp had that pretty much licked by the time I got here.”

Briles said he was impressed by the strides Turner made in the weight room and in workouts when the players were on campus.

“Darin’s worked hard,” Briles said. “He’s one of those kids that I think this is the first time he’s ever worked in a strength and conditioning environment like the one that we have, which I think is second to none.

“You can ask him, I think it got after him a little bit early. But I think he was really starting to change his body. You could tell he was losing a little bit of that baby fat. He was starting to look like a man.”

Turner said he has gained 15 pounds after playing at 203 last season and credited strength and conditioning coach Jamil Walker.

“I feel like at this weight, my body transformed a lot,” Turner said. “I feel like I gained nothing but muscle.”

Turner said he doesn’t have access to a weight room back home, but that he has been doing about 400 push-ups a day and lifting dumbbells.

“Coach Walker makes sure we’re on top of our conditioning, even though we’re at home,” Turner said. “He texts us every day to make sure we’re hydrating, getting the right food into ourselves, conditioning.”

Briles said he’s excited about what Turner can do at receiver.

“I think he’s got a tremendous future,” Briles said. “He’s got a lot of bounce in his legs. I was really pleased with how hard he’s been working.

“Talking with Coach Stepp, he’s done a really nice job with all these meetings where he’s retaining information as well.”

Wright coached Turner for two years at Central after being the coach at Memphis Raleigh Egypt High School.

“When I came to Central before Darin’s junior year, he embraced what we were trying to bring to the table and was just always a good player for us and a good teammate,” Wright said. “That’s why he’s where he is now at an SEC school.

“It tends to work out that way for the ones who handle things like they’re supposed to.”

Wright said he knows it won’t be easy for Turner to earn playing time as a true freshman, but he has the talent and drive to make it happen.

“All freshmen go through growing pains, but when Darin gets an opportunity I think he’ll show that he’s more than capable,” Wright said. “I also think he’ll be patient and wait his turn, and he’ll be ready when his turn comes.”

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.