Cole Turner had the physical traits since he arrived at Nevada as a true freshman in 2018, but a position change has unlocked his potential this season.
Turner caught just six passes with one touchdown in his first two seasons as a lanky wide receiver for the Wolf Pack. Heading into 2020, the junior switched to tight end and added 35 pounds to his 6-foot-6 frame.
Switching positions combined with a rigorous offseason routine has made all the difference for Turner, as he’s established himself as a premier talent in the Mountain West Conference.
“I was always tall, but never heavy until now,” he said. “I came into my freshman year around 205 (pounds) and now I’m hovering around 240 (pounds) so it’s been a big improvement for me. It took some time for me to adjust, but I eventually found my comfort zone.”
Turner ranks fourth in the conference and leads all tight ends with 427 receiving yards through six games this season. His 35 receptions are third in the Mountain West to go along with four touchdowns on the year.
Nevada head coach Jay Norvell saw Turner’s growth this offseason and made the switch from tight end. His size and athleticism have made a seamless fit to this point.
“Moving Cole to tight end was an excellent move for him and his future,” Norvell said. “The kid is 6-foot-6 and has great size. He’s still very athletic, and moving him to the middle of the field gives us great matchups offensively.”
Prior to his successful 2020 stint at Nevada, the tight end position seemed foreign to Turner. He led the state of Oregon in receiving his senior year at Clackamas High School and won three straight conference titles as a wide receiver.
Turner had the skill set to shine out wide at Nevada, but wasn’t given ample opportunity and playing time as a freshman and sophomore. The change to tight end this season has helped him flourish under Nevada’s downfield offensive attack.
“It was an adjustment at points,” he said. “I never put my hand in the dirt and blocked before. But once I put the work in and practiced, I felt comfortable blocking and trusted myself… I always knew I could make plays, that’s never been in question.”
Despite the adjustment, Turner still lines up outside for the Wolf Pack on several red zone conversions, where his strength and size overmatch defensive backs for jump balls. His receiving skills have translated to the tight end position.
“Putting on the weight gave me that versatility and helped my confidence,” Turner said. “I’m able to play bigger and use my size more to my advantage. All that training in the offseason has put me here, and I think it’s been a seamless fit that’s worked for the best.”
As the truncated eight-game season continues, Turner has opened eyes with his big-play ability. Fellow teammate and wide receiver Romeo Doubs has garnered well deserved praise for Nevada this season, but Turner’s impact doesn’t go unnoticed. He remains the safety valve over the middle and shines with the ball in his hands.
“He’s crucial to what we try to do offensively as a group,” Norvell said. “Cole is a big part of our process and he continues to improve each week out.”
The Wolf Pack offense has put up historic numbers through their 5-1 start, and Turner’s evolution as a tight end is a key component. He is focused on finishing the year strong as Nevada gears up for a potential postseason appearance.
“I just need to keep working and improving as much as I can,” he said. “We have a chance to be special on offense with the amount of talent we have.”
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @IsaiahBurrows_.