Kemoko Turay was one of 17 Rutgers recruits to sign National Letters of Intent Wednesday with the Scarlet Knights.
It's a fact that qualifies him as special, though not unique.
No, what makes Turay unique is that he hadn't played a single down of varsity football yet when Rutgers offered a scholarship to the 6-5, 215-pound defensive end from Newark Barringer based on a workout on campus last June.
And only a month or so before showing the Rutgers staff his astounding athletic ability and enormous potential, Turay had no thoughts of playing football at all. His intention was to play basketball in college.
But that was before Nhemie Theodore--an offensive line coach at Barringer and a track coach at Newark Tech-- had finally persuaded the quick and rangy Turay to give football a shot. Turay is a student at Newark Tech, where he plays basketball and runs track, but was allowed to play football elsewhere in the Brick City since his school has no program.
"Coach Nehmie asked me so many times, but my parents didn't really want me to play," Turay said. "Then he said, 'If you play, I'll bet you'll get a scholarship offer. If you don't get a scholarship offer, I'll even pay your tuition.' ''
Your money is no good here, Coach Theodore. The State University has this one.
Turay signed his NLI at the Barringer library, along with teammates Keir Minor, Jaquan Pinnix and Al-Shadir Jones. Minor, an outside linebacker/strong safety, will continue his career at Central Connecticut, while Pinnix, a cornerback, and Jones,a defensive lineman, are both headed to American International College in Springfield, Mass.
Those four were central figures to the revival of the Barringer football program. The Blue Bears finished only 4-6, but that was one more victory than their combined total of the previous three seasons, and two of those losses were by three points or fewer. Barringer qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs this season for the first time since 1986.
"It's starting to come full circle. I have a great staff and great kids. But it's still brick by brick," Mangan said. He took over the program in 2010. "These guys have laid the foundation that we can build upon. And one of the things I'm most excited about is that the younger guys in the program can look at this (the signing) as living-proof moments and follow it the same way."
Turay and his pals signed before a group of teammates, several of whom possess both the ambition and talent to play college football at some level.
"This shows we all put the work in. It's not just an individual effort; it's a total team effort," Minor said. "As you can see, we still have juniors who will play at the next level and younger guys under them. I'm just glad to be a part of this change."
Barringer would have taken forward steps with or without Turay, but there is no doubt that his defensive prowess helped hasten the process. Turay has great speed off the edge, surprising strength and the fierce will to complete the job he sets out to do.
Turay compiled 105 tackles, 28 for losses, and recorded 19 sacks last season for Barringer.
"Rutgers is getting a steal. He's going to do some great things down there," Mangan said. "He should eventually be an all-Big 10 performer and getting national recognition. He's tenacious and that's something you can't teach. You can't tech heart, and that's something he has."
Turay, an honor roll student, is showing that tenacity on the boards and defensively night after night for the Newark Tech basketball team, which is 11-6, and seeded No. 2 in the Essex County Tournament. His Terriers battle Columbia Saturday in the quarterfinals. They also expect to seriously compete for a Group 2 state title next month.
"I like working hard, and I don't like losing," Turay said. "I will do what I have to do to keep the (Rutgers) team together and do my part. If I do my part, I'll feel like we have to get better. I'm determined to do better in every game I play. Even if we're losing, I'll show everyone that I keep working until the clock winds down."
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Mike Kinney covers football for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS