A.J. Turner turned a few heads recently when asked what he learned about returning kicks from Deebo Samuel.
“Not too much,” he said.
What? Samuel was one of the best kick returners in college football and set a school record with four returns for touchdowns.
Then Turner explained.
“Not too much, because I was always the one blocking for him,” he said.
Now Turner, South Carolina’s most versatile all-purpose player, gets his chance to do what Samuel during his illustrious career.
“I view it as my turn to get the rock and score,” he said.
Turner, who plays on all of South Carolina’s special teams, is expected to be the primary kick returner this year, and he can’t wait.
“I’ve been waiting. I’m not going to lie,” he said. “Just being to the side and blocking — which is not a problem, it’s not a bad thing, I’m all for the team and whatever is going to help us win — but me being able to have the ball and maneuver feels good. I’ve definitely been waiting for this moment.”
Turner, a senior, has become South Carolina’s jack-of-all trades. He has spent most of his career at running back, rushing for 1,322 yards and eight touchdowns and catching 47 passes. But he moved to defense late last year to help a depleted secondary.
He is expected to play offense and defense this year and will continue to be a valuable player on special teams. He’s so valuable on special teams coach Coleman Hutzler calls him a “war daddy.”
“I guess that means I’m just an important guy on special teams," Turner said.
“He’s been a guy that’s been a great player for us on offense, played defense for us last year and obviously for us on special teams,” Hutzler said.
Turner has focused primarily on defense during training camp and is slotted to back up at both corners and nickel back. He played defense in the Belk Bowl last year and has spent the offseason working with defensive backs like Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu.
“It was hard for me [at first], but I am willing to learn from anybody, whether it’s a younger guy or an older guy,” he said. “Jaycee and Izzy do a really good job. They know what they are doing so I just kinda follow behind them. I ask them questions and I am in the meeting room extra just to make sure I know everything so when I get out there I can play fast and know what to do.”
Turner, who had an interception on the first day of training camp, loves playing defense and believes he has a defensive mentality. “I love to hit and be physical and fly around the ball,” he said.
After years of taking hits as a running back, he is anxious to deliver some of his own.
“When I’m on defense, it’s my turn to hit you. I take pride in that,” he said. “Every time I get to hit someone in camp, I’m definitely coming full force.”
Turner, who split carries with Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson the past three years, believes learning defense will help him if he gets to the next level.
“I think it adds nothing but value,” he said. “Being able to do different things like offense, defense, special teams and be able to excel at them, not a lot of people can do that. I take pride in it.”