After finishing his high school football career at Glen Burnie, Ezekiel Turner decided his best option was to bet on himself.
Turner, a running back and safety in high school, had a couple of Division II offers in hand and a few preferred walk-on slots available from programs such as Towson and Charlotte. However, he wanted more.
"Growing up, I always wanted to play big-time college football," Turner said. "I knew that I was capable of playing at the next level and didn't want to sell myself short."
Turner was an academic qualifier out of high school, but he opted to attend junior college for the exposure. He spent less than one year at Los Angeles Pierce College and parlayed that into scholarship offers from Washington, Oklahoma, Arizona State and numerous other schools. Now, after playing three seasons at Washington, Turner again has his sights set on bigger things.
The hard-hitting defensive back is hoping to be selected in next week's NFL draft. He projects to be either a late-round pick or a priority undrafted free agent. His special teams skills, though, figure to give him a good chance to make an NFL roster later in the summer.
"It's been a good process. I've just been taking it in, taking it day by day, and making sure I stay ready," Turner said Thursday in a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun. "This is where I've been trying to get my whole life, to the next level, and it's finally here."
Turner, who is 6 feet 2 and 214 pounds, spoke in January with more than 25 teams at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he played under former NFL defensive backs Darrell Green and Dexter Jackson, and he's also taken a couple of top-30 predraft visits. Turner said the hometown Ravens are among the teams he's spoken with.
"I'll definitely bring a lot of physicality. That's my favorite aspect of the game: contact," Turner said. "And I'll be a leader and just a great, amazing teammate that will do anything that will help the team win."
Turner played in 38 games with Washington over three seasons, finishing with 100 tackles, four passes defended, one forced fumble and two interceptions. However, he was overshadowed at times while playing part of his career with NFL second-round draft picks Budda Baker (Arizona Cardinals), Sidney Jones (Philadelphia Eagles) and Kevin King (Green Bay Packers).
He took on a leadership role this past season for the Huskies as the only senior in a secondary that had to contend in the Pac-12 with top quarterbacks Sam Darnold of Southern California, Josh Rosen of UCLA and Luke Falk of Washington State. Darnold and Rosen are expected to be early first-round picks Thursday.
"I learned so much being on a great team," Turner said. "I think that made me better. I was competing every day. Nothing was ever handed to me."
Turner, who grew up in Pasadena, played for a different coach in each of his three varsity seasons at Glen Burnie. He said the coaching turnover and the team's struggles prevented him from getting the exposure from bigger college programs he felt he deserved.
"I was emailing every college coach, going to college camps, just trying to do everything I can to get my name out there," he said. "It was rough."
Turner said the only people who supported his decision to go to junior college in hopes of getting an opportunity with a bigger program were his parents. While at Los Angeles Pierce, Turner stayed in a two-bedroom apartment with four other people.
The plan, though, was validated as he played junior college ball in the fall and ended up signing with Washington in December 2014. Still, the fact that he didn't get much attention from recruiters continues to be a motivating factor as he gets ready to jump to another level.
"It definitely always motivates me. I've always been overlooked or underrated," he said. "It always pushes me. I know what I'm capable of. I know I can go to a team and help the team right away."