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Kobie Turner finds his tempo with music and football
Once worried about a pro football future, Rams rookie defensive tackle Kobie Turner – also known as "The Conductor" – realized that dream while maintaining his other greatest passion in music. 
By Stu Jackson Jul 27, 2023

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Passionate about football and music, Kobie Turner's dream – as far back as elementary school – was to play professional football.

But there was one point in time where he didn't know if that dream was still viable, and thought he might need music to keep it going.

This is how "The Conductor" managed to keep it alive while maintaining his passion for both.

Music became part of Turner's life at an early age.

His mother grew up listening to gospel music, R&B, and reggae around the house, which in turn became his childhood. The sound of reggae especially stands out to Turner from his youth, though not for the reason one might think.

When he heard it throughout the house on Saturday mornings, a smiling Turner said it was a sign that it was going to be a day where they would be cleaning up a lot, so he didn't look forward to it too much.

"I don't remember the artists. I didn't know them by name, but I know them by sound," Turner told, laughing. "Trust me. When you're asleep and you start having dreams of reggae, you're like, 'Ohhhh.' And then you open your eyes and you realize it's real, it's like, 'OK, mom's in the kitchen, she already has the Fabuloso out, like, we're about to be scrubbing the floorboards, it's all over.'"

When it comes to foundational music experiences, Turner more fondly remembers gospel. He said it all got started going to worship practices with his mom on Saturdays and Sundays. As Turner got older and progressed into middle school and high school, he watched his oldest brother get into the guitar, and it left a big impact.

"I've really looked after him," Turner said. "I'm the youngest of four, and he was the oldest, so I kind of started doing my thing with guitar and stuff like that, and music gradually became bigger and bigger in my life."

Turner said music became his outlet once he got to high school, and how he made it through high school. It kept him busy, too – in addition to choir, he also ran three a capella groups while juggling football, per a November 2022 Sports Illustrated article.

"Being able to go back and play music and use that to pour on my emotions and whatever it may be, and that was kind of my voice," Turner said.

For some time during that period, though, he also thought it might be his only way of getting a college scholarship, and by extension, continuing to pursue his football dreams.

Centreville (Virginia) High head coach Tony Rozzoni already had Turner on his radar thanks to Turner's football lineage.

Older brother A.J. had previously come through the program and was a highly-productive running back who later earned a scholarship to the University of South Carolina. Thus, Rozzoni was eager to get to know Kobie.

Rozzoni said that initially, football wasn't Kobie's biggest passion – though Kobie said that during that time, he wasn't feeling the most confident in his football future.

At first, Kobie played tight end in Centreville's Wing-T offense. It wasn't until his junior year that the Wildcats coaching staff started to find playing time for him along the defensive line as well.

That junior season – the months leading into it, to be more specific – marked a turning point that changed everything for him.

Centreville offers a personal fitness class that its football program wants its players taking, a class that Rozzoni has taught for a long period of time at the school. Kobie couldn't because of the music and advanced placement classes he was taking, so Rozzoni made an exception for him.

Eventually, Kobie asked if Rozzoni could train him on the side.

"I would actually in the offseason train him for like an hour a day, just showing him different lifts like the power clean, deadlift, bench," Rozzoni said. "Like, hey, do five sets of five on this bench, you got to do five sets of three jerking power cleans, hang cleans. He was literally like a sponge for me when I was teaching him about different things in the weight room."

That hard work paid off – to an extent.

Turner started as a junior and a senior, earning First-Team All-District recognition for both the offensive and defensive lines. He was also a Second-Team selection on the offensive line for USA Today's All-Virginia squad and a Class 6A Second-Team All-State choice for both offensive line and defensive line. However, Turner still remained lightly recruited by colleges, and was still looking at music scholarships to offset the cost of continuing to play football as a result of not seeing those football scholarship offers.

"I didn't really get much love in general," Turner said. "I remember Hampton came around once or twice, and they were potentially gonna offer me a scholarship at one point in time, but then that coach went to the University of Richmond, and so he kind of became one of my ins at Richmond. I remember talking a lot to Washington and Lee, I think it was Seton Hill (as well) or something, but it was all D-3, D-2's."

So when Richmond stopped by for an in-home recruiting visit with his best friend, a defensive end named Caleb Brooks, Turner decided to take matters into his own hands.

Justin Wood was on the Richmond staff that had just been hired in 2017, the year Turner graduated and Brooks was offered a scholarship.

When Wood and head coach Russ Huesman went to do Brooks' in-home visit, Turner was there too.

Turner introduced himself and asked if they had any open spots available. The coaches told Turner they would look at his film and get back to him.

Reviewing Turner's tape, Wood was shocked he wasn't a more sought-after prospect.

"As I watched it, he was playing tight end, he was playing offensive line, played some defensive line," Wood told "What you saw on film from him was effort, energy, he was a physical player. And it actually baffled me that he wasn't being offered scholarships to different places."

A Division I FCS program, Richmond doesn't have the luxury of inviting 20 kids to walk on to its program. Wood said that on a good year, they'll have between 85-90 players on their roster, whereas most other programs are working with 105. Thus, preferred walk-ons are just as valuable in the evaluation process for the program as scholarship players.

The Spiders extended a preferred walk-on offer to Turner, who accepted and joined the team.

While he didn't play in a game in 2017, Turner still made the most of his first year at Richmond, committing himself to the weight room just as he had done toward the end of his Centreville career. According to Wood, Turner was also very coachable. If he made a mistake on one play, he corrected it the very next.

Between the coachability, effort and energy, and continued development with his technique, it was an easy decision for Richmond's coaching staff to award Turner a scholarship less than a year after he joined their program.

"In our staff meetings, as we worked through spring ball, I don't think there was any question that as he just continued to develop, we were going to offer a scholarship," Wood said. "That's one of the things that we just kept on saying, you know, 'we'll see how it goes through the rest of spring,' because it was practice one through 15. But Coach Huesman, our head coach, actually did it after one practice where (Turner) was completely dominant. Coach was like, 'Alright, we're gonna offer you are scholarship.' ... I think the team saw, 'Man, this guy's really good,' and honestly I don't even know if some of the guys knew that he was a walk-on. I think some of them just viewed him as a scholarship player, because we don't really put that out as a staff – everybody's equal. But it was a great moment."

It was also a big moment for Turner because of the risk he had taken – the cost of attendance for Richmond, before aid, is nearly $75,000, per the United States Department of Education. Turner said he knew he had one year from his parents to be able to earn that scholarship, and he managed to pull it off.

With that goal achieved, Turner in time would reward the Richmond coaching staff for that faith.

When Turner got to Richmond, Wood said he initially started off as a tight end, but the offensive staff later determined he wasn't exactly what they were looking for. So Richmond's defensive coaching staff looked at him on that side of the ball and thought he had the potential to be a "great" interior defensive lineman.

From a transition standpoint, it helped that Centreville's Wing-T offense asked Turner to do a lot of down blocking, requiring aggressiveness that Turner easily provided and could translate well to the other side of the ball. Still, Turner was a "raw" defensive tackle as he came in, according to Wood. Aspects of playing the position like getting in the proper stance, what his first step should look like, what he's supposed to be keying, his reaction to different blocks – it took him time to get used to it.

Just as he was in the weight room his final two years of high school, though, Turner was a willing learner, leaning on doing extra to put himself in a better position to succeed.

Turner's first season as a scholarship player (2018) saw him play in all 11 of Richmond's games that year, making 14 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. In 2019, he built on it further as a 12-game starter who earned Third-Team All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) recognition for producing the most tackles for loss on the team (14.5) and second-most sacks (7), both of which were career highs. He also logged 71 total tackles.

His breakout came in the 2021 spring season, when he was CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Year – the first Richmond player since 2010 and first interior defensive lineman in the CAA since 2011 to win the award – as well as a First-Team all-conference performer and Second-Team All-American by the AP and STATS Perform FCS while starting all four games of the spring season and finishing with the second-most sacks (3.5) and third-most tackles (19).

Turner was again a First-Team all-conference selection and Second-Team All-America choice by STATS in the 2021 fall season with four sacks and 54 total tackles in 11 games.

"The extra piece of it, throughout his entire career, he was always in here, wanting to be with the coaches," Wood said. "What do I need to do to get better? How can I tweak this? And it got to the end where, with me as the defensive coordinator, he'd come into my office and say, 'Hey, coach, what do you think about this? I saw this on film, what do you think about this? What do you think about this technique? Can I do this here instead of this in terms of a pass rush move?' So what was ingrained in him as a young high schooler going into his senior year, he built on that in his college career."

While those numbers in 2021 were slightly lower compared to his last full season, Wood said that Turner was injured his senior year, which impacted that output.

Nonetheless, Turner's body of work had put him in a position where he would be wrestling with his NFL future and whether to turn pro.

Wood recalls the conversation with Turner like it happened yesterday.

"Very, very vividly remember it," Wood said. "We were going into our game versus Delaware, and it was like 9 o'clock at night. I was in (my office) watching film, and he came in, and he was like, 'Coach, can I talk to you for a little bit?' And I was like, 'Absolutely, what's going on?' And he was like, 'I am so torn right now,' because he had agents constantly contacting him. He was with us for five years, if he would have stayed another year, he would have been with us for six. 'Do I declare now? Do I grad transfer? Do I stay here and build on my resume?' And my message to him was, 'Kobie, let's fine-tune what you need to here in college to better prepare you for the NFL,' because he got injured his senior year and that kind of hampered him statistically."

A self-described "very exhaustive" person, Turner wrote down a pros and cons list attempting to cover "every possible thing" to ensure he was making the right decision, while also getting feedback from various stakeholders. He said it was a long thought-out process that took a week or two before arriving at the choice he made.

After getting a sense of how the NFL saw him and where he could improve, Turner ultimately elected to enter the transfer portal so that he could prove himself at a higher level of competition. Wood indicated the Richmond staff wasn't disappointed by the decision, though, because Kobie had given five years to their program already.

"You put in five years, and because of COVID, you get an extra year, you got our blessing, man," Wood said. "And my big thing for him was finding the right place."

The right place turned out to be Wake Forest, which Turner chose over Virginia Tech with input from his parents and after making another exhaustive pros and cons list. Given the pre-existing relationships and connections, it made sense: Richmond head coach Russ Huesman was Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson's defensive coordinator when Clawson was the head coach at Richmond, so there was an automatic rapport there that allowed them to get an honest assessment of their situation and whether it was the right fit.

Turner also had an advocate already on Wake Forest's roster. Assistant head coach for defense/defensive line coach Dave Cohen said safety Malik Mustapha had made the staff aware Turner was considering being a grad transfer and "thought the world" of Turner.

"The more we researched it, the more it was a no-brainer, because like you guys know, not only is he a good football player, he's an even better person," Cohen told

In his lone season as a Demon Deacon, Turner earned Second-Team All-ACC recognition from the Associated Press and Third-Team All-ACC honors from league coaches and media after finishing with 38 total tackles (10 for loss) and two sacks in 13 games. He had at least one tackle in every game and multiple tackles in 10 of those 13 games.

During that time working together, Turner made a strong impression as a student of the game and because of the way he exceeded what he put on tape.

"Whatever the film shows, he's better," Cohen said. "And what I mean by that is, as hard as I thought he played, he plays even harder. As smart as I figured he was after meeting him, he's smarter. As athletic as I thought he was, he was even more athletic. The more I worked with him, the more impressed I was."

Music remained part of Kobie's life in college even as he played football in other ways, too.

According to a video produced by the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), Turner successfully auditioned for and sang baritone in Richmond's Schola Cantorum, a small mixed chorus which studies and produces "choral literature appropriate to the group from variety of style periods and origins" with "emphasis on a cappella repertoire," per the group's page on the school's music department's website. The group rehearses three times per week and holds regular on- and off-campus performances, including occasional international tours.

One of those international trips took place in 2019 and gave Turner and his classmates the opportunity to sing in places throughout Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, including singing mass in Basilica San Marcos (St. Mark's Basilica), the famous catholic church of Venice.

"(Basilica San Marcos) was a huge space for the choral tradition," Turner said in the CAA video. "A lot of important people in the choral tradition kind of originated from there and created music there, so it was just super cool to engage with choral history, as well as to be abroad and perform in spaces that I've never seen before. Along with that, there's two songs that we brought over there that we sang at my teammate Gus Lee's memorial service when he passed earlier in that year, and it was just super special to be able to sing and perform those songs over and abroad, and still have his memory along with that. It was filled with a lot of awesome things."

Richmond was also where Turner, a double music and math major, got his nickname.

According to that same November 2022 Sports Illustrated article, Turner and his teammates were dancing and listening to music in the locker room one day during his sophomore year when he started conducting. The team captain thought it was a great celebration, so Turner used it as one in the Spiders' next game after getting a safety. It's stuck with him ever since – his teammates and coaches at Wake Forest continued to use it, too.

Turner also actually sang the national anthem prior to a Richmond basketball game during his time with the football program, according to Wood.

"He was fantastic," Wood said. "Standing ovation. He was really, really good."

That Turner sang shouldn't come as too much a surprise, though, because Rozzoni said he also sang the national anthem – in uniform – prior to one of Centreville's football games.

"I'm like, 'Oh my gosh,'" Rozzoni said. "Not only is this dude starting for us, right, he's also singing the national anthem as a player? That's just very unique that you would see a kid in uniform singing like that. If you're around him long enough, you just realize that there's more to him than just football."

It's fitting that Turner was nicknamed "The Conductor" because of the overlap it has on both music and football.

Chief among the position's general responsibilities is to unify performers and balance out instruments' volumes – in other words, an exact representation of the kind of person he is.

Wood remembered a time when Turner called him after FaceTiming with some teammates, one of which was disgruntled because he felt as though the other linebackers were being put in position to make plays instead of him because of the accolades they were getting.

"All right, well, do you want me to call him and handle it? Or do you want to handle it?" Wood asked.

"Coach, I got you, I'll handle the situation," Turner told him.

Turner got back on FaceTime with that disgruntled player later that night, then called Wood the next day and told him "we're good to go." The intended message had been received – from that point on, that player had a good attitude and wasn't an issue.

Cohen, meanwhile, recalled Wake Forest's big game against Vanderbilt last season, when Turner celebrated making a big play by playing the air violin afterward.

"And now, the other 10 defensive players are all playing an air instrument after he makes a big play," Cohen said. "His leadership, his energy, that stuff is just phenomenal."

That theme of Turner continually building and making steady progress applied to the NFL Draft, too.

According to Wood, the feedback from scouts was Turner being selected between rounds 4-7 or rounds 5-7. Turner did one better, as the Rams took him in the third round.

Now Turner gets the opportunity to work alongside Aaron Donald, someone he studied closely in college.

"It is funny, because we always get NFL film from the previous seasons, and that's a guy that he would watch," Wood said. "They go in there, they would watch him, how he does things, study his game, what can I do? How can I be like him?"

Getting selected meant more to Turner that just getting the chance to work with one of his NFL idols. When it happened, he took some moments to reflect on going through the entire draft process and what his goal was for the past year.

"And I accomplished exactly that," Turner said. "And so, to be able to look back and say, this is what this year is for, and I knocked out exactly what I wanted to do, it's something special. But at the same time, this is just the start of the journey."

That mindset reflected the approach that not only got him to where he is now, but what it currently is as he embarks on his NFL career. After having that second to think about what he had accomplished, he quickly shifted his attention the months ahead, like a conductor flipping between two sheets of music on a music stand.

"'How am I going to set a clear focus for this next year for my rookie season? What clear focus am I going to bring into this season, into the into camp? And how am I going to go prove myself again and again, day in and day out? What process am I going to bring?'" Turner said. "So it's kind of restarting that cycle all over again, and hoping for the same results, and not only hoping, but working for those same results. So I'm really excited to see how everything goes this year, this season. And just continuing to take one step forward each day, keeping my process, and staying true to the grind, and being able to look back hopefully in a year from now and say I accomplished what I set out to do."

When his playing days are done, Turner wants to be a choir director – but "hopefully, that's 10-to-15 years, 20 years down the road," he said.

That dream can wait. Right now, his focus is on the other one that seemed out of reach, but is no longer anymore.

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