University of Washington

Huskies special-teams standout also one of team’s top tacklers

If you are bored, and looking to stump your rabid University of Washington football-starved friends on a trivia question, this might be one for you.

Who is tops on the team in tackles in 2017?

That is an easy answer for those who have watched games. Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven has paced the defense in all three games, and leads by a wide margin with 27 tackles.

So who is No. 2?

Any takers?

Co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake?

“I do not (know),” Lake said with a grin after practice Tuesday.

It is senior Ezekiel Turner — full-time special teams hit man, and reserve safety — with 15 tackles. He’s already close to his career-high for a season with 23, set last season.

Turner isn’t just your typical backup safety, as Lake points out. His role is growing. He has averaged roughly 30 snaps per game on defense, giving starters Jojo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp a breather.

“I think of all three of those guys (Rapp, McIntosh, Turner) as starting safeties.” Lake said.

Turner has taken one of the more interesting paths to Montlake.

Back in Pasadena, Maryland, Turner started out as a lacrosse player in middle school.

“In Maryland, that is like a religion,” Turner said of the sport.

When he got to Glen Burnie High School, he soon started playing football. And by his sophomore season in 2011, he was starting at safety.

“We were not that great of a high school. We won (seven) games,” Turner said. “And I had a new coaching staff every year, so I wasn’t getting much (recruiting) exposure.”

Turning down FBS invited walk-on offers, Turner instead moved all the way across the country to L.A. Pierce College in Woodland Hills, California.

Turner figured it was a calculated risk, but he had done his homework. He knew the junior-college program had a reputation of sending players on to big-time programs.

“I was confident in my own ability,” Turner said. “I knew I could play at this level. I just needed exposure, and to get on the field and get that tape.”

He played in seven games during the 2004 season, finishing with 35 tackles and an interception, which he turned into an 80-yard touchdown return.

Very quickly, FBS offers started coming down the pike, including ones from Arizona State, Indiana and the Huskies, whom he signed with after the season in December.

And since his arrival, he has not played a ton on defense, but has been on the Huskies’ top special teams performers. Last season, he was named the UW’s special teams player of the year.

“There are a lot of guys here, so we are always competing, pushing each other as much as we can,” Turner said. “Everybody is digging and scratching for reps. As much as I can help the team, I will do whatever I can.”

In last year’s Pac-12 championship game against Colorado, Turner made his most significant contribution by picking off a Sefo Liufau pass for his first career interception.

“Jojo was a little banged up, so I had to go in there,” Turner said. “Ben (Burr-Kirven) hit the receiver, the ball popped up and I just kind of reacted and it fell in my hands.”

He is hoping for more opportunities like that moving forward.

“We always say guys need to earn their reps on offense or defense through special teams … and Zeke Turner has definitely earned it,” Lake said. “You will see him playing a ton moving forward.”

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