From FCS Walk-On to NFL Draft Prospect, Kobie Turner Looks to Defy the Odds Again

Matt HolderFebruary 8, 2023

Kobie Turner, Wake Forest
Kobie Turner, Wake ForestChris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LAS VEGAS – It's the last day of practice at the East-West Shrine Bowl, and defensive tackle Kobie Turner looks to cap off an impressive week. He trots out onto the Las Vegas Raiders' practice facility sporting a matte black helmet with the blue and red Richmond Spider logo on the side and gold letters that read "Wake Forest" at the base of his head.

While that color scheme may clash, it perfectly symbolizes Turner's journey to becoming an NFL draft prospect.

The Spider-turned-Demon Deacon has a path to the draft similar to J.J. Watt's. Like Watt, Turner was lightly recruited out of Centreville High School in Clifton, Virginia. While Watt was a 2-star prospect, Turner was unranked in 247Sports' recruiting database and walked on at Richmond, an FCS school.

As a freshman, he didn't have much time to spare. His parents gave him one year to earn a scholarship—similar to Watt's situation at Wisconsin—or he would have had to transfer to a community college to keep his dream alive.

With a chip on his shoulder, not only did Turner earn that coveted free education, but he became an FCS All-American.

"I'm the type of guy who's gonna work from the ground up, and I'm completely OK with doing that," Turner told Bleacher Report during an exclusive interview at the Shrine Bowl. "That's what I've done my whole career.

"... The first year [at Richmond] when a lot of freshmen who come in, they're relaxed and they're freaking out about the social scene and stuff like that. I didn't have time for that. ... From the second I stepped on the field, there was a specific purpose, a specific mindset, and I think that's something that can differentiate me. Because that's the mentality that I have."

Despite all of the accolades (CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Year and three-time All-CAA selection) and stats (16 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss in 38 games), Turner still had something to prove to NFL scouts. That's why he transferred to Wake Forest ahead of last season.

"The whole transfer was about playing against better competition, about doing whatever it took to put myself in the best position to be able to make it to the league, so it was a complete business decision," Turner explained.

"Wake had a great spot. [Defensive line] coach [Dave] Cohen and [head] coach [Dave] Clawson have been there for around eight years. It's a culture that's already set up ... and they brought me in and welcomed me with open arms, and I was just able to come in and put my piece of the puzzle; the leadership, the motor, the effort and just the way that I attack things."

Going from getting no scholarship offers out of high school to earning one from the defending ACC Atlantic champions could have created some complacency for Turner. However, he maintained a "walk-on mindset" at his new school.

"[I went] into this year with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "Being an FCS guy, and not only that, but walking on to FCS school.

"I don't know that there are a lot of doubters, per se. My family has always believed in me, and I haven't had a lot of outside noise just because I haven't opened myself up to that. But certainly, a lot of people wouldn't think that I will be in this position where I'm at today, and this is only the beginning.

"... I'm just trying to keep going forward and keep climbing these new mountains and just, you know, keep working hard."

While Turner's journey to the NFL started with plenty of obstacles, it has become part of his value proposition to general managers and scouts. It's something that helps him stand out from the rest of the pack.

"I think that just shows how I approach things," he said when asked how his story differentiates him in the predraft process. "Even when I got to Wake, nothing was handed to me and I didn't want it to be that way. ... And it all goes back to work ethic, playing with the motor, playing with energy, playing with passion."

While Turner didn't log a start this past season, he still managed to finish second on the team with 10 tackles for loss. Not bad for a guy who couldn't even get an FBS school to give him a chance coming out of high school.

While becoming an NFL star is Turner's next goal on his football journey, he's already made the most of the opportunities the sport has presented him with. He earned his bachelor's at Richmond and a graduate degree from Wake Forest.

Even if professional football doesn't work out for the former walk-on, he should have no problem landing on his feet. But the combination of his perseverance, mindset and skill set suggests we'll be hearing the name Kobie Turner on Sundays for a while.