Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

By Sammy Batten

Turnage shores up Pirates' safety plans

Ayden-Grifton stalwart brings 4.42 speed, physical tools

By Sammy Batten
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Drew Turnage was playing recreational football in Ayden, NC, the first time Paul Cornwell laid eyes on him. Cornwell, the head football coach at Ayden-Grifton High School, was impressed but not overwhelmed by Turnage's talents.

"He's someone we knew of coming up through the local recreation leagues and playing middle school. We knew of him and we followed him,'' Cornwell said. "He came along with a good group. Many of the players in his class have been together for several years. We knew the entire group.

"Drew was a kid, when he was younger, wouldn't jump out at you necessarily as a great athlete. But he really worked hard to develop himself physically.''

Turnage worked hard enough to earn a late-season promotion to Cornwell's varsity as a freshman, when he started every game at free safety during the state playoffs. The 6-foot, 185-pounder has started the two years since. Last season, as a junior, he earned Carolina 1-A Conference and All-Pitt County honors as a safety.

The performance impressed the East Carolina University coaching staff enough that defensive backs coach Rick Smith personally offered Turnage a scholarship on May 10 during a visit to Ayden-Grifton. Three days later, on May 13, Turnage made a verbal commitment to become the second member of the Pirates' recruiting Class of 2014. He followed offensive lineman Kyle Erickson, who became ECU's first committed prospect in late April.

The Pirates were the first to offer Turnage, who has spent lots of time around the ECU program growing up and attended many games at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Even though it was his first scholarship offer, Turnage didn't hesitate to pull the trigger and accept even though other schools were starting to show interest in him.

"He's grown up going to games over there and has been around the program a lot,'' Cornwell said. "When they offered, I definitely think they were his number one choice. He did take the opportunity to speak with his family, and we talked about it. He was just ready to commit. He wanted to be a Pirate.''

Despite not making a big impression on Cornwell in the local rec leagues and middle school football, Turnage made a sudden impact for the Chargers after spending the regular season playing linebacker for the junior varsity. When the varsity's starting free safety was injured right before start of the state 1-AA playoffs, Cornwell promoted Turnage and thrust him into the starting lineup for the first-round game against Trask.

"He made the transition to free safety in one week of practice and started every playoff game as a ninth grader,'' Cornwell said.

Turnage helped Ayden-Grifton to playoff wins against Trask (42-21) and Gates County (28-13) before the Chargers were eliminated by Southwest Onslow (38-6) in the Eastern sectional final.

By his sophomore year, Turnage was a full-time starter in the secondary and a part-time performer at running back for an Ayden-Grifton team that finished 13-2 and advanced to the state 1-AA finals before losing to Swain County, 20-14. He ran for more than 500 yards on offense and was an a Carolina 1-A Conference pick on defense as Ayden-Grifton went 9-3 last year.

"We always thought he'd be a good player, but to what level we really didn't know,'' Cornwell said. "He was always very bright and a hard worker. It all really came down to how much he would develop physically. We were fairly certain (by his second year) he'd be a college player ... but at what level we didn't know for sure.

"He certainly has grown and developed each year. He was a starter in the state championship game as a sophomore. Last year as a junior he did very well. He returned punts for us and was also used as a running back to carry the ball as a backup. I think he averaged something like 12 yards a carry. He's just a guy who has taken full advantage of every ounce of ability that he has, and has worked to become a tremendous player.''

Turnage, who has been timed at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash, is an athlete capable of making big plays on offense, defense or special teams, says Cornwell.

"Last year, he had a couple of big punt returns for us that were big plays that kind of got us back into some ballgames,'' Cornwell said. " Defensively, he just makes plays. He's not a guy going to be like the Honey Badger guy (ex-LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu) who can take over games. But he's coachable and is always in right spots and he's going to do make plays he' supposed to make.''

Cornwell said Turnage isn't just a quality football player. He carries about a 3.0 grade point average in school and also competes for Ayden-Grifton's track and field team in the sprints, sprint relays and long jump. Turnage qualified for regional competition in the sprints this year, but was unable to compete due to a conflict.

East Carolina has recruited Turnage to play safety. Both of the players expected to start at the safety positions for the Pirates in 2013 strong safety Chip Thompson and free safety Damon Magazu will complete their eligibility next fall. Their backups, Desi Brown and Detric Allen, are both juniors, so signing safety prospects is a priority for this recruiting class.

Turnage is capable physically of making the transition to the college level and being of assistance to the Pirates as a true freshman, according to Cornwell.

"One of his strengths is filling in against the run,'' Cornwall said. "We don't see teams throw the ball quite as much as they see at that level, so coverage skills is something he'll need to develop even more.

"From the physical side of things, he can definitely play early. I don't think he'll be overwhelmed with the physical side of the game. He's a strong kid. The rest of it, as far as learning new defenses and coverages, that's where it's yet to be determined whether he'll be able to play (as a true freshman) or not.''

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06/12/2013 04:13 AM