University of Washington

Steady improvement behind the ascent of Huskies freshman DB Asa Turner

Washington Huskies defensive back Asa Turner (20) comes in to tackle USC Trojans wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. (1) during the third quarter. The Washington Huskies played the USC Trojans in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Washington Huskies defensive back Asa Turner (20) comes in to tackle USC Trojans wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. (1) during the third quarter. The Washington Huskies played the USC Trojans in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

On the morning of Asa Turner’s high school graduation, he was on the football field.

Carlsbad (Calif.) head coach Thadd MacNeal has ushered plenty of Division I recruits through the program. Over the years, he’s noticed that once players sign with a school, they tend to relax their training regimen.

But not Turner.

Instead, the four-star recruit spent his final hours as a high school student by himself, working on his footwork. That drive continued through the offseason and eventually propelled him into fall camp at Washington. Even though he didn’t enroll early, Turner was determined not to show up already behind.

“A lot of freshmen make that mistake,” MacNeal said. “He had the mindset of, ‘I’m going to go in there and really, really come ready.’”

Turner has played in six of the Huskies’ seven games this season, only missing the loss to Cal. He made his first career start at safety during last week’s win over Arizona. After finishing with four tackles and a tackle for loss, he moved up on UW’s depth chart, too. Turner started the season as Elijah Molden’s backup at nickelback. Now he’s listed as a starting safety, with an ‘OR’ separating him and fellow freshman Cameron Williams.

Turner’s ascent hasn’t surprised MacNeal. He expected Turner to contribute immediately — mostly because that’s what he did at Carlsbad. MacNeal said Turner was “thrown into the fire” by starting on offense as a sophomore. By his junior year, he was playing both ways. It didn’t take long before he was a high-level recruit at multiple positions.

And while Turner was excelling on offense and defense — he finished his career at Carlsbad with 78 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns — he was also playing hurt. Turner dealt with injuries for the majority of his final two seasons, from an ankle injury as a junior to an Achilles sprain as a senior.

MacNeal could tell, but only because he was so familiar with the way a healthy Turner moved. Even injured, Turner was consistently one of the best players on the field.

“He never missed games unless we sat him ourselves,” MacNeal said. “Asa played hurt all the time. … He just hobbled through. I used to tell our coaches, ‘He’s better than any guy hurt (even) if they’re healthy.’ That’s the toughness, though, that I always thought a lot of people didn’t have.”

Coming out of high school, Turner was considered the No. 10 athlete in the country by 247Sports. Along with UW, his offer list included Notre Dame, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, USC and Utah. Turner originally committed to the Huskies in July 2018 but chose not to sign in December. Instead, he took time to consider an offer from the Irish to play linebacker.

And Notre Dame wasn’t the only program that wanted Turner to play a different position. MacNeal said both Michigan and Stanford recruited him as a receiver. UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake told MacNeal that Turner would be a first-round draft pick at safety in three years, but Notre Dame said he could be a professional linebacker. And Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh? He saw an NFL-caliber receiver.

Eventually, Turner picked the safety position — and the Huskies.

And then he got to work.

“He said his mentality really changed when he got to Washington as far as really preparing himself to be a starter instead of thinking of himself as a freshman,” MacNeal said. “So, I think that’s helped him.”

When Turner first arrived at UW, senior defensive back Myles Bryant described him as a wide-eyed freshman. Most of his time was spent just figuring out where he fit in. But as Turner grew more comfortable, he quickly found his way.

“Really just trying to get the defense down to a T,” Bryant said. “Every day going out there practicing and preparing like he’s been starting since Week 1. Now he’s into that role, and I feel like every day he’s getting better and better.”

That description sounded familiar to MacNeal. In high school, Turner carried himself with a quiet intensity. He was a quick learner, and he rarely made the same mistake twice. Turner didn’t play much youth football, so MacNeal always believed his best days were still to come.

“As he got older, the roles got bigger for us and what we expected from him,” MacNeal said. “I saw that growth. And then his ability to make his teammates around him better by the way he worked and by the way he carried himself.”

After the win over Arizona, UW head coach Chris Petersen said Turner’s steady improvement picked up after he recorded his first career interception in the fourth quarterback against BYU. On the season, Turner has 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception. He’s expected to make his second start against Oregon on Saturday.

“He is slowly just like, one of those guys it’s so awesome to see,” Petersen said. “You see him practice well and you put him in the game and it translates. It doesn’t always translate, but it really has been for him. So I think it was awesome to get him in there a bunch and I think the confidence will keep building.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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