Maryland football wide receiver DJ Turner barely saw the field over the past two years.
As a senior at DeMatha Catholic High School in 2015, Turner fractured his fibula in the team’s season opener. After spending the spring rehabbing, he caught just two passes as a freshman last season while playing behind veteran receivers. Then, he was suspended for the squad’s final three regular-season games for violating the student code of conduct after the Nov. 6 airsoft gun incident.
But in Maryland’s spring game Saturday, Turner made his case for a starting job. He hauled in a touchdown and led all receivers with 126 yards on six catches.
“I had to come out here and make a statement,” Turner said. “I definitely had a chip on my shoulder because of the suspension and me not playing as much last year. I had to come out, make a name for myself and prove everybody wrong that didn’t think I was going to come back and be as good as what I’m doing.”
Turner came to College Park as a 247Sports three-star recruit along with three other DeMatha players.
After completing rehab, he struggled to adjust to the speed of the college game during his freshman campaign. Plus, he competed with then-senior wide receivers Teldrick Morgan and Levern Jacobs, as well as then-sophomore D.J. Moore, for playing time.
Turner’s lone catches came in a win against Howard — a 16-yard gain — and in a blowout loss to Michigan.
The week after the Michigan game, Maryland suspended Turner and running back Lorenzo Harrison. They faced criminal charges for their alleged roles in the campus airsoft gun event, though those charges were dropped in January and Maryland reinstated the duo.
Harrison apologized for the episode when he spoke with reporters after Maryland’s spring practice April 13, and Turner echoed that statement Saturday.
“I’m definitely a different person,” Turner said. “That was a tough couple of months for me and [Harrison]. … I would never make that same mistake again. Now, I’m back, fully focused on football, and I’m ready to go.”
On Saturday, Turner wanted to prove he still has the same explosiveness and skill post-injury.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound receiver flashed his savvy in the third quarter by beating his defender down the field and catching a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Max Bortenschlager. In the fourth quarter, he took a 53-yard reception into the red zone. Those breakout plays — which coach DJ Durkin said Turner has been completing all spring — helped the offense defeat the defense, 40-35.
Turner claimed the game is slowing down as he’s learned to read coverages better.
“He’s really explosive,” Bortenschlager said, “good route runner, good hands — sure hands.”
Turner is also a supporter of the “DMV-to-UMD” movement, which calls upon recruits from Washington, Maryland and Virginia to join Durkin’s squad. The Terps picked up two DeMatha commitments for 2018 on Saturday, while two other DeMatha players will be freshmen this season.
Turner is confident those recruits will improve the program, but for now, the sophomore is focused on competing with Moore, Taivon Jacobs and Towson transfer Jacquille Veii for playing time this season.
“[Turner’s] been really, really solid for us, consistent,” Durkin said. “He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands. He’s a tough cover in the slot. Between him and Taivon there in the slot, we’ve really helped ourselves at that position.”