KRAVITZ: Intriguing Colts’ draftee plans to get his diploma and then take the NFL by storm

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KRAVITZ: Intriguing Colts’ draftee plans to get his diploma and then take the NFL by storm

I am rooting for Kemoko Turay. Truth is, I’m rooting for all the Colts rookies to establish themselves as professional football players and return the team to relevance or even better. You think 4-12 is fun to cover? Think again.

But there’s something about this kid, his ready smile, his quick wit, his willingness to own his story and to tell it that appeals to me. And the fact that he favorably compared himself with Broncos pass-rusher extraordinaire Von Miller? Hey, he’s young. He’s excited. And he believes in himself. Boy, does he believe in himself.

The deeper truth about Turay, who will be used at defensive end, is that he’s not anywhere close to a finished product. Although when GM Chris Ballard was asked whether Turay was a “project’’ – he hasn’t played much football in his life and his Rutgers production was marred by several injuries – he demurred.

“He didn’t look like a project at the Senior Bowl,’’ GM Chris Ballard said recently. “He looked like the best pass rusher at the game. He needs work, there’s no doubt. But I’m telling you, Turay would have come off the board pretty quickly. He’s got some unique traits. He’s long, he’s got a great first step; there’s not many guys in this league that can get off the ball like he can get off the ball out of a two-point stance. He’s got speed, he’s got bend. He’s an athlete. We think he’s got a great upside.’’

After the Colts selected him in the second round of the NFL Draft (52nd overall), Turay was effusive in his praise – for himself.

“They’re getting a unique pass rusher that’s going to dominate the league when I get there…’’ he said. “They’re going to get everything out of me. I’m going to be everything.’’

This immediately brought to mind the post-Draft comments of former third-round bust D’Joun Smith, who proclaimed to reporters that he would be the best cornerback ever to play the game. Smith, as you might recall, was dumped early in his second season in Indianapolis. He is currently looking for an NFL job.

It’s not just the potential and the bravado that I find appealing. It’s the look of pride in his eyes as he talks about flying back to Piscataway, N.J., Saturday to take part in Sunday’s graduation ceremonies at Rutgers, where he will receive his degree in information and technology informatics. He is the first member of his family to earn a college diploma. Getting drafted was a point of pride for Turay, but getting that degree, that, he says, is his greatest accomplishment. Not bad for the son of West African immigrants, someone who was raised in a rough neighborhood in Newark, N.J.

He also told the Colts he wants to put his website and coding skills to work and become an intern in the team’s IT department this offseason.

“I’m the oldest of six,’’ he said. “I actually graduated Dec. 19 but I’m walking on Sunday. It’s beautiful. We had a little ceremony, my oldest sister (Fanta) she started crying. I set an example both for my family and for the African community, to show it’s important to graduate and that hard work pays off if you set your mind to it.’’

He was born in the West African nation of Guinea and played just one year of varsity football at Barringer High School in Newark, N.J. Despite that lack of experience, he had a hugely productive senior season and caught the eye of the Rutgers coaching staff during a summer camp. His freshman season was revelatory; he had 7.5 sacks and earned the attention of pro scouts. But then came shoulder injuries, shoulder surgeries – sound familiar, Colts fans? – that diminished him his sophomore and junior seasons. Then, as a senior, he had a career-high in tackles and earned invitations to the Senior Bowl and the Combine. Still, after that freshman year, he had just eight sacks in his last three seasons, or 31 games.

So this is a bit of a risk.

Like we said, a project, one that could pay off in a massive way (think Robert Mathis) or bust like a blackjack dealer holding a 16 (think Bjoern Werner). Right now, the Colts figure to start Jabaal Sheard and John Simon, two veterans, at the defensive end spots, so Turay will have time to learn the pro game and soak up the wisdom that Mathis will provide.

Funny thing is, Turay’s father, a West African immigrant and a tailor for the past 45-years, wasn’t all that excited about the idea of his son playing this foreign and violent game. Initially, he said no when Komeko wanted to pursue the game as a senior in high school. But then he bloomed and earned a scholarship, and his dad’s tune changed.

“Yeah, I love football,’’ his dad said.

For years, it seems, the Colts have been looking and looking and looking for defensive ends who could somehow fill the shoes of the two legendary bookends, Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Since 2004, the Colts have swung and missed time and again, most notably on Jerry Hughes (who’s gone on to play well in Buffalo) and the aforementioned Werner. It’s been one whiff after another, leaving the Colts eternally near the bottom of the league in quarterback sacks and pressures.

Turay, they pray, will be the exception to the recent rule.

He hasn’t made it, not yet, but he’s come a long, long way.

“It’s a dream come true; it’s just hitting me right now,’’ he said. “Now that it’s a reality, it’s beautiful…My family is relying on me, my teammates are relying on me, so it’s time to go to work.’’

Von Miller?

Sure, why not?

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