Not everyone can make TCU coach Gary Patterson smile. But not everyone is KaVontae Turpin.
“Y’all need to just be able to spend some time around him,” Patterson told reporters last week after the freshman receiver caught four touchdown passes against Texas. “I’m not sure he’s ever met somebody he doesn’t like. I’m not sure he’s ever had a bad day.”
Patterson shook his head a little, shrugged his shoulders.
“I mean, he’s always smiling.”
Well, what’s not to smile about?
Turpin is a 5-foot-9, 152-pound receiver who can scoot through the smallest hole. Just five games into his college career, he is third in the Big 12 in kickoff returns, third in punt returns, third in touchdown catches and sixth in all-purpose yards.
In Kolby Listenbee’s absence, he has become TCU’s second-leading receiver in yards and touchdown catches. It has not taken long to earn quarterback Trevone Boykin’s trust and Patterson’s.
In yards per catch, KaVontae Turpin ranks as high as Josh Doctson for TCU. Turpin averages 17.5. Doctson averages 17.2.
“When he gets out there, he plays loose, he makes plays,” Boykin said. “He does what we thought he could do when coach Cumbie first texted me about him — this guy could be special.”
That became clear in the first few fall practices. The “Turpin Sightings” had started.
That’s what Patterson called them.
“A long time ago, when Daryl Washington was here, we’d say there was a ‘Daryl sighting’ — all of a sudden, he’d block a punt; all of a sudden, he’d be running vertical and pick a ball down the middle,” Patterson said. “Turpin’s one of those guys. You have ‘Turpin sightings.’ Wherever he’s at, something crazy’s going to happen.”
Turpin’s one of those guys. ... Wherever he’s at, something crazy’s going to happen.
TCU coach Gary Patterson
Soon, everyone was trying to catch the next Turpin Sighting.
“Amazing,” receiver Desmon White said. “I mean, when he first came in, in fall camp, he came in making plays. He’s a great player. Great kid, too.”
Patterson paid the ultimate compliment: “I wish I could put him on defense.”
(He was smiling).
Days later, Patterson took the next leap of faith. He had to.
The unexpected transfer of Cameron Echols-Luper less than two weeks before the start of the season meant the Horned Frogs suddenly needed a punt returner.
It would have to be Turpin.
But it would mean a freshman would be fielding punts in the season opener, on the road, against a Power 5 opponent, on a Thursday night, on national television, for a top-five team.
Patterson was not smiling.
“He screwed up a couple of things,” Patterson said after the game. “But he did good enough that he’ll probably be our No. 1 kickoff returner, also.”
TCU touchdown leaders: Josh Doctson, 8 Aaron Green, 7 KaVontae Turpin, 6 Trevone Boykin, 2 Kolby Listenbee, 2 Kyle Hicks, 2
So Turpin had passed a big test. He had handled pressure. He had handled criticism from Patterson. He was ready for more.
“He just gets it,” Patterson said. “He gets it. The last guy that we had that got it as a freshman was Jeremy Kerley.”
Now comes another test. Turpin is going to get game-planned for. The Big 12 has learned of his ability. But then, so have the Horned Frogs.
Even last week, you go, ‘Man, we should have gotten him the ball even more than what we did.’
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, on KaVontae Turpin
“Really, we just try to get that guy the ball in space,” Boykin said. “We go back every week — even last week, you go, ‘Man, we should have gotten him the ball even more than what we did.’ ”
Last week, Turpin shared Big 12 player of the week honors. His four touchdown catches in a game were a record for a Big 12 freshman.
Lightly recruited out of Monroe (La.) Neville, Turpin was almost an afterthought even for TCU, a regular miner of Louisana talent.
“Everybody in the area talked about Turpin in high school,” Patterson said. “He was this dynamic player for Neville. We ended up having a slot open late, and we needed a guy a little bit like that. You’re always looking for your next punt and kickoff returner, which is what we thought he’d be initially.”
1,928 All-purpose yards for KaVontae Turpin as a senior at Monroe (La.) Neville High School. That included 904 yards rushing and 724 yards receiving. He scored 29 touchdowns.
Turpin has exceeded expectations. Now more will be expected. But Patterson has a hunch the kid who is always smiling will handle it.
“You say, ‘Go to study hall, Turpin.’ He smiles,” Patterson said. “You say, ‘Get to class, Turpin.’ He smiles. ‘Don’t fumble a punt.’ He smiles.”
Patterson didn’t resist a smile this time.
“As coaches, we all get caught up in this,” he said. “And then you just get a guy that’s kind of, ‘Don’t worry about it. I got it.’ ”
Then Patterson did start worrying. Couldn’t help it.
“Now watch,” he said. “Next one, he’s going to mess something up, I’m going to be really mad, and I’ll never have anything good to say about him ever again.”
Everyone smiled in understanding.