Colts’ Kemoko Turay becomes first member of his family to earn college degree

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Kemoko Turay (Photo courtesy of IndyStar)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – You’ll have to excuse Kemoko Turay for that double-wide grin following him around this weekend.

These are special times, when one dream-come-true moment is followed – maybe even surpassed – by another.

“The reality is beautiful,’’ the Indianapolis Colts’ second-round draft pick offered Friday with, of course, an infectious smile.

Thursday, Turay arrived in town and promptly set his alarm – three or four different times just to be safe – to catch a 6:30 shuttle Friday morning to the Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center. His dream job as a defensive end with the Colts became official when he signed his four-year contract worth approximately $5.2 million in the afternoon, and the first phase of a three-day rookie minicamp beckoned.

“It’s not college anymore,’’ Turay said. “You have to have a different approach. I have a family that’s relying on me. I have teammates that are relying on me.

“It’s just time to go to work.’’

Yes, it is. But after three days of absorbing as much as possible regarding coordinator Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 scheme and his projected role in it, Turay has one last bit of college-related business to tend to: graduation ceremonies at Rutgers.

Turay earned his degree Dec. 19, but had to wait until Sunday to walk across the stage and receive his diploma.

“Flying out Saturday night, walk on Sunday, coming right back to work,’’ he said.

It’s a hectic schedule, and one Turay earned and is eagerly embracing. He’s the first member of his family to graduate college.

“It’s beautiful,’’ he said.

There might not be a dry eye in the Turay family/friends section when the decorated son walks across the stage Sunday afternoon. The family held an informal rehearsal earlier this week and the occasion overwhelmed Fanta, Kemoko’s oldest sister.

“(She) watched me and started crying,’’ Turay said. “It just showed what an example I set for my family, especially for my African community to see that it’s important to graduate and see how it pays off if you put your mindset on it.’’

Turay’s is one of those feel-good stories. His mother is from the Ivory Coast on Africa’s west coast, and his father was born in Guinea and grew up in Liberia. Kemoko was born in Guinea. The parents established themselves once they immigrated to the United States.

“My dad is a tailor; he’s been sewing for 45 years,’’ Turay said. “My mom has been braiding hard for so long. Just watching them being their own boss, showing how it works, having different employment come and go, constantly working day-in and day-out.’’

At one point, Kemoko wanted to try his hand at sewing. Dad wouldn’t allow it.

“He was like, ‘No. I don’t ever want you to sew. Focus on school,’’’ Turay said. “Two days ago, he was like, ‘I told ya so. I told ya not to do sewing.’’’

In this instance, father knew best.

General manager Chris Ballard invested one of his four second-round selections in an edge pass rusher from Rutgers. The 6-5, 253-pound Turay, the personnel staff believed, was an ideal fit in the new defense with his athleticism and ability to get off at the snap.

“He was a coveted guy,’’ Ballard said. “Guys that can rush the passer are hard to find.’’

Turay’s Rutgers resume offers only a glimpse of what the Colts envision. He had 7.5 sacks as a freshman, but only 7 in the following three seasons as he had to overcome surgery on both shoulders. He also played in a 3-4 and at times was asked to drop into coverage, which didn’t maximize his skill set.

“This defense is based on athleticism and speed,’’ Ballard said, comparing it to the early 2000s under coach Tony Dungy and team president Bill Polian. “Just look at every guy they took. They all had certain athletic traits and speed traits, all the way from (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis, moving Cato June down (from safety to linebacker).

“It’s athletic ability and speed.’’

Although he’s had little time to acclimate himself with Eberflus’ defense, Turay believes he’ll find it to be a hand-in-glove fit.

“The biggest attribute of my game is just getting after the quarterback,’’ he said.

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