On April 26, KaVontae Turpin took the field for the first time with the New Jersey Generals for the USFL’s inaugural season. Four months later, Turpin seems to be a lock for the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster.
For Turpin, his journey to the NFL has been long overdue. Someone who knows a thing or two about that road is his former teammate De’Andre Johnson. Turpin and Johnson were a QB/WR duo in The Spring League in 2021 and the USFL in 2022. Two players labeled underdogs vying for a chance to earn recognition and respect. The quarterback knows how hard the new Cowboys returner works and is excited to see him get his shot at the NFL level.
"“I think everybody who knows Vontae knows his capabilities. He is just so exciting to where you expect him to make them type of plays.” -De’Andre Johnson said in an exclusive interview with The Landry Hat"
Turpin was just that against the Los Angeles Chargers and showed the coaches and the fans where he makes his money. In the first quarter of the game, Turpin returned a kickoff of 98 yards for a touchdown. He made the Chargers pay again in the second quarter, returning a punt for an 86-yard touchdown.
Before the USFL, Turpin was TCU’s standout returner and gadget player. Over his college career, the Horned Frog averaged 28 yards on his kickoff returns and scored six total return touchdowns. Johnson’s brother, who played cornerback at Ohio State, saw firsthand how fast Turpin plays on the field.
"“I was talking to my younger brother last night. He was the first person that told me about Turp when we played together in the Spring League a few years back. He told me, ‘that No. 5 you got, he’s a bad dude. In college we only had two guys that ran a kick return back on us. One was Saquon Barkley and the other one was KaVontae Turpin.’ That spoke volumes especially coming from a program like Ohio State.”"
Turpin’s senior season at TCU ended early after being dismissed from the football team because of legal issues off the field. After going undrafted in 2019, he bounced around, spending time with the Sea Lions in The Spring League and the Fan Controlled Football League. Turpin even traveled to Europe to play with the Wroclaw Panthers in Poland, but he never wanted to give up on the game that he loved.
"“One thing I love about guys that take the route that I’m taking is that you’re already counted out, you’re already an underdog,” Johnson said. “So in order for you to keep pursuing your dream, you have to love it. Off the field, he’s a guy where we’ll finish practice and he’ll say ‘let’s get something to eat’ and then we’ll go watch film together. You know he’s a guy where he takes his professionalism on and off the field, regardless of the situation.”"
In an exclusive interview with The Landry Hat, KaVontae Turpin’s former teammate De’Andre Johnson says the Cowboys’ new returner is opening the door for other USFL players
This offseason, Dallas lost former wideout, Cedrick Wilson, to the Miami Dolphins in free agency and then traded Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys needed help and took a chance on Turpin, signing him to a three-year deal, hoping he could contribute on special teams and potentially as a wide receiver. The good news for fans is that Turpin has shown he’s capable of both of those things, despite being only 5’9″ and 153 pounds.
As a quarterback in the USFL, Johnson knew immediately he could rely on Turpin and that his team had something special at receiver. His WR teammate knew his worth as a returner, but also told reporters that he wanted to show he’s a great receiver, too.
"“If you watch that tape from New Orleans, Turp was a difference maker,” Johnson said. “He had this isolation route that Coach Riley specifically called for him because they kept playing in man coverage. Our one receiver ran an under and Turp had a shake angle where you take the DB, you take him up the line and you take him out and cut across his face.Oh my god, It was one of the smoothest routes I’ve seen in my life. I didn’t even see Turp, but I threw it in the spot where I knew he would be. That should tell you right there how much confidence we had in Turp as a receiver and playmaker.”"
The same chemistry Turpin had with Johnson in those leagues will hopefully carry over with Dak Prescott. Early in his career, Prescott was willing to trust smaller receivers in Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin. If Turpin can translate his tape from the USFL and develop a connection with Prescott, fans will feel better about the team’s options at receiver to start the season.
Johnson has that confidence at least. The quarterback said that even if Turpin does not play another down in the preseason, there should still be no doubt that he earned a spot on the 53-man roster spot. Regardless of what happens with final roster cuts, Johnson has loved watching Turpin play and show teams that players in the USFL deserve a chance to play in the NFL.
"“First and foremost, I told him the other day in our group chat that we’re proud of you and above all that we love you bro,” he said. “You’re not just playing for yourself, you’re playing for everyone, Cowboys nation, your family, and your family over here and guys that are supporting you. You’re helping open up the door for guys like us and for guys who are coming through the back door. You know we wish him the best and we know he’s gonna make the most of it.”"
Johnson is not the only fan rooting for Dallas to keep Turpin around. After his Saturday performance, the football world knows who No. 2 is. The NFL has had famous return specialists. First, it was Deion Sanders and then Devin Hester. Now in 2022, it’s “Turpin Time.”