Indiana was the school that gave Kaiden Turner his first scholarship offer, so Turner gave Indiana its first commitment for the Class of 2022.
For the 6-foot-2 218-pound inside linebacker from Fayetteville (Ark.) High School it was sort of that simple and easy. From the time Indiana got involved in his recruitment in May of 2020 he was pretty certain that Indiana was the place he wanted to go. By the time he got around to announcing his commitment on Monday afternoon, it felt like stating the obvious.
“They were my first offer, and that really means a lot to me, you know what I mean?” Turner said. “Just knowing they trust in you and believe in you before every other school in the country does. That means a lot. I feel like God is tugging at my heart and that is where I’m supposed to be.”
— Kaiden Turner (@Thekaidenturner) March 8, 2021
Indiana learned about Turner because of a connection of college teammates. Fayetteville coach Casey Dick and former Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack played together at Arkansas for two years and were roommates at the time. Dick stayed around all four and earned the starting quarterback job in his junior and senior seasons. Wommack played fullback for two years before transferring to Southern Miss, but they stayed in contact. Dick told Wommack last year there was a player the Hoosiers needed to see.
Wommack was sold and offered quickly. So was Indiana coach Tom Allen, and Turner was quickly sold on Allen. Both are devout Christians and Turner and his family bonded with Allen over that.
“The first time we got on FaceTime he told us about what he believes and how the team should be run,” Turner said. “We got off the phone and me and my parents were like, ‘He’s an amazing guy. That’s who I want to play for.’ It was amazing. We have the same beliefs in our faith. He believes he wants to build Indiana up on God, and that’s exactly what I believe in too. That’s someone I want to lead me the next four years.”
Turner might have committed earlier, but Wommack was hired as the head coach at South Alabama in December and Turner wanted to make sure he clicked with the new defensive coordinator before he made that call. Charlton Warren called him not long after he was hired in January and after a couple phone calls, Turner was sure he knew where he wanted to go.
“That was one of my biggest questions,” Turner said. “But I love Coach Warren. It was a great hire by Coach Allen. That was kind of the deciding factor. When I talked to coach Warren one or two times I knew I was ready to commit. He said that I was the first person coach Allen showed him film of.”
The film shows a linebacker with intellect and a motor that jumps off the screen. His father Joe was a standout linebacker in California and gave him an advanced sense of the game at a young age, and that’s made him good at both directing the defense and making plays.
In nine games as a junior this past season, Turner recorded 67 tackles including 12 for loss and 5.5 sacks. He had three touchdown returns — one on a fumble, one on an interception, and one on a blocked field goal. In 10 games as a sophomore, he had 87 tackles, 9.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks.
“He’s a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker who offers a unique skill set,” Dick said. “He’s got a full-tilt motor all the time. He’s a student of the game. He always wants to understand why. He just has that unique feel for the game as far as always being in the right place at the right time.”
Dick said Fayetteville usually uses a 3-4 scheme and Turner plays inside linebacker in that scheme. He operates like a quarterback of the defense and usually is the one making sure teammates are lined up where they’re supposed to be.
“He’s just the guy who’s like a coach on the field for us,” Dick said. “… He’s constantly coaching up people and making them better. It’s pretty unique.”
Moving to a 4-2-5 defense at Indiana will mean some greater territorial responsibility and more even more pass coverage, but those are things Turner looks forward to. Turner said he hasn’t had his 40 clocked since about eighth grade, but it’s evident on film and should allow him to get wherever he needs to go.
“Coach Warren said he just loves to have his linebackers flowing downhill and that’s what I do best,” Turner said. “The name of the game in football now is just speed. Coach Allen, coach Wommack and coach Warren, all of them said I have elite speed. My speed I’m sure is going to be a great addition to the defense. Coming downhill and just playing reckless, really.”
And according to Dick, he has endurance to go with the speed and doesn’t slow down as the game wears on.
“There’s guys that have extreme motors and that’s what you can see when you flip on his game film,” Dick said. “From Snap 1 to Snap 75, he’s playing full-speed. He’s making tackles from sideline to sideline. He can get out there and tackle a wide receiver screen or step up and fill a power or fill an iso, A or B gap in the middle of the defense. His lateral quickness, lateral speed is good and he’s just got that high football IQ.”
Turner said he needs to be better at getting off blocks, and that some times his pad level is too high. He is trying to put on more muscle and hopes to be at 220 when he arrives at Indiana. His playing weight is 218, but he lost 15 pounds through a bout with COVID-19, but he’s back up to 209 and is playing power forward on the basketball team.
Dick thinks all of those developments are achievable, because Turner’s attitude and mentality is one that seems to fit into Indiana’s culture as well.
“The thing that separates Kaiden is he’s a blue-collar worker,” Dick said. “Blue-collar mentality, and just a big-time leader for our football team.”
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