When Maryland and the Big Ten decided not to play a fall 2020 football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, wide receiver and kick return DJ Turner knew he wanted to find an opportunity to finish his collegiate career somewhere else.
The question was where. With the Big Ten and Pac-12 deciding to postpone their seasons, there were suddenly a lot of potential transfers in the NCAA portal, but the late date of his decision meant that only a few schools had available transfers.
But Turner had a connection at the University of Pittsburgh that he ultimately leveraged to his advantage. Actually, Turner had about four connections.
The first, and perhaps most important, was that Pat Narduzzi had once recruited his older brother to Rhode Island back in the late 1990s.
“So, 21 years ago, Coach Narduzzi recruited my older brother from Dematha High School when he was at University of Rhode Island, so they had a relationship,” Turner explained. “And once everything kind of went downhill at Maryland with with the Big 10 canceling their season, I reached out to my brother and was like, ‘Yeah, I think I want to go play in a different conference that’s playing.’ So he reached out to coach and asked him if they were interested and things like that. So that’s kind of how everything took place.”
But Narduzzi was not the only person on the Pitt staff that had previously recruited a member of the Turner family. Pitt wide receivers coach Chris Beatty was the Maryland wide receivers coach when Turner joined the team in 2016. Beatty left Maryland for Pitt before the 2019 season, and a year later, his protege has joined him.
“He’s just an overall great person. I’ve known Coach Beatty for about five years now and I got more respect for him than a lot of people,” Turner said. “Coach Beatty is real big on the little details and playing receiver and that not even that, just knowing the game of football. He makes sure that all his guys know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, down to the steps coming in and out of your route.”
When Beatty was recruiting Turner at DeMatha, he might have bumped into Pitt running backs coach Andre Powell. Powell, Pitt’s area recruiter for Washington, D.C., also landed two players from DeMatha in the Class of 2016: Pitt defensive end John Morgan and defensive back Judson Tallandier.
Turner said that he talked to both players about what it was like playing at Pitt before making the final decision to transfer.
“We were real close at DeMatha,” Turner said. “I think that both were two years after me. As soon I was kind of thinking about coming coming here, I hit both of those guys up just to kind of get a feel for what was going on, like, not from a coach’s perspective, but from a player’s perspective, and then somebody that actually knows me personally, and how they think I would kind of fit in here. So they definitely helped me out a lot with that, decision coming up here.”
While Turner’s Pitt connections were extensive, he has a few to the Steelers’ next-door neighbors on the South Side, as well. Turner played for Steelers quarterbacks coach Matt Canada in 2018 and played alongside Dino Tomlin, the son of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, as wide receivers at Maryland in 2019.
“Me and Dino are real close because he was in our room, obviously,” Turner said. “I ran into coach Mike one time leaving the facility and we talked. He just welcomed me to Pittsburgh. A cool little conversation. I try to let those guys do what they got to do. I told him to say what’s up to Coach Canada for me.”
Turner joined the Pitt program late in the 2020 offseason, even after training camp had begun, but given his familiarity with a number of players and coaches in Pitt’s facility, he should be able to fit in quickly.