As a freshman last season, Maryland slot receiver DJ Turner struggled to get onto the field and get noticed, playing behind seniors Levern Jacobs and Teldrick Morgan while being overshadowed by a number of other freshmen, including running back and former DeMatha teammate Lorenzo Harrison III.
Turner caught two passes in the six games in which he appeared, the first for 19 yards in a season-opening win over Howard and the other for just 3 in a blowout loss at Michigan in early November. In the days after the game in Ann Arbor, Turner received unwanted attention as his future as a Terp became clouded.
Along with Harrison, who was the team’s second-leading rusher at the time, Turner was suspended for Maryland’s final three regular-season games as well as the Quick Lane Bowl. They were charged after an incident the day after the Michigan game for allegedly shooting airsoft guns on campus.
The reinstatement of the two players in early January, and the subsequent dropping of charges for reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and threatening to commit bodily harm on school property, was big news mostly because of Harrison’s return.
Again, Turner’s reinstatement seemed to be an afterthought.
Considering what the 5-foot-9, 200-pound rising sophomore receiver did throughout spring practice, concluding with an impressive performance in Saturday’s annual Red-White game at Maryland Stadium, that might also be in the past. Turner certainly hopes so.
“It was very important. I had to come out here and make a statement,” said Turner, who accomplished that with six catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. “I definitely had a chip on my shoulder because of the suspension and me not playing as much last year. I had to come out, make a name for myself and prove everybody wrong that didn’t think I was going to come back and be as good as I am.”
Though he still is not the most prominent DJ on the team — not with second-year head coach DJ Durkin and junior wide receiver D.J. Moore, the team’s top returning receiver — Turner took a step toward winning a starting job in the fall. He is currently in the mix along with seniors Jacquille Veii (Towson University) and Taivon Jacobs.
Turner also is aware that many wondered whether he would ever regain the speed and sure-handedness he showed before he broke his leg in his first game as a senior at nearby DeMatha. He had suffered a similar injury that cut short his sophomore year in high school as well.
That he was able to demonstrate his ability to make plays downfield Saturday — including a 54-yard catch-and-run and a 28-yard touchdown, both on passes from sophomore Max Bortenschlager — proved that Turner appears to be fully recovered.
“A lot of people were looking for me to show that I’m still injury-prone or something like that. Just being out here and making plays, it’s a great feeling,” he said.
Said Bortenschlager: “He’s a good route runner, good hands, sure hands. He’s very explosive.”
Turner said he has a better grasp of what Durkin, offensive coordinator Walt Bell and position coach Chris Beatty want from their receivers in everything from running routes to blocking on the edge.
“The game speed is starting to slow down a lot. I’m starting to become more of a student of the game. I can read coverages a little bit better thanks to my coach,” Turner said. “Now it’s starting to be a little easier. I can make a little bit more of an impact on my team.”
Durkin was not surprised what Turner did Saturday.
“He’s been doing that all spring long,” Durkin said. “He’s been really, really solid for us and consistent. He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands. I think he’s a tough cover in the slot. Between him and Taivon in the slot, I think we’ve really helped ourselves in that position.”
As Harrison expressed recently in his first appearance before the media since the incident, Turner said he had learned from what could have been a very costly mistake.
“I’m definitely a different person,” he said. “That was a tough couple of months for me and LoLo [Harrison’s nickname]. We’re definitely sorry for what we’ve done. I’m very apologetic. I will never make that same mistake again. Now I’m back, fully focused on football and ready to go.”
NOTE: Senior kicker Adam Greene (Broadneck), who struggled at times last season with his consistency and distance on field goals, made his only attempt from 48 yards, which was four yards longer than his career best at Maryland.