There is a dark horse contender beginning to emerge in practice that might make a larger than expected impact on the offensive side of the ball during the upcoming Illinois football season.
The name on everyone’s lips early on has been that of wide receiver Malik Turner. Yes, he’s a freshman, but apparently he isn’t playing like it as practices have gotten underway.
Most fans, and probably even a few of the coaches, wouldn’t expect a freshman to land on campus and hit the ground running. There is typically an adjustment period as the younger guys get used to the speed of the game, as well as the level of competition while taking a step up from the high school level. In this case, however, it seems that Turner is, well, turning heads and not just coaches heads either.
In recent post-practice interviews Martize Barr said, “He’s good. He’s a lot further along than I thought he would be as a freshman.”, and G-Mo Allison built on those thoughts when he said, “He has a high upside. Malik has a lot of special tools. He’s quick. He’s fast. He can catch the ball, and he’s learning the offense pretty well. I mean, I think he’s going to be a good addition to us.”
Turner also earned some praise following the first day of camp from Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit when asked if he had any first day surprises. Cubit mentioned him first and then said, “I felt Malik Turner (was a surprise). You know I think he’s a guy we thought he was going to be good but you know we haven’t seen him all summer, but I think he’s got some really good talent out there.” Most importantly, however, it’s Head Coach Tim Beckman that’s made multiple mentions of Turner during his post-practice interviews.
Following Wednesday’s practice Beckman said, “Malik Turner’s caught my eye. I mean, he’s definitely not playing like a freshman.” Later he went on to drive his point home with more complimentary words about the freshman wideout when he said, “He competes. He doesn’t play like he’s 18 years old. The biggest thing, honestly, what separates him for me, and I’m challenging some of those upperclassmen – he works hard. He works extremely hard. You can tell he comes from a winning program.”
Turner dominated his senior year in high school by helping lead Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin to a perfect 14-0 record and a Class 5A State Championship while finishing the season with 69 receptions for 1,378 yards and 22 touchdowns. That’s a high quality statistical season, and a program can’t do any better than perfection in the win column so Beckman hit that nail right on the head.
Obviously, the Big Ten isn’t the Central State Eight, but that doesn’t mean that Turner can’t find some success early on in his Illinois career as he flies under the radar as a new member of the offensive attack.
Success, in this case, will be positive production as Turner enters his first season of collegiate football, but based off everything that’s being said, it appears Malik Turner is well on his way to becoming a dark horse candidate to emerge as a quality contributor within the new look Illini receiver corps.
**All stats are courtesy of Malik Turner’s Bio on fightingillini.com, and all quotes come courtesy of IlliniProductionsHD on youtube.