LAWRENCE — They call him “Big Drew,” the soft-spoken receiver with a vat full of raw talent. They say he may be the Kansas Jayhawks’ fastest receiver, a sure-handed target who stays after practice to catch extra balls. They say Andrew Turzilli may be the quietest, too.
“Laid-back dude,” says senior receiver Daymond Patterson.
Turzilli, a redshirt sophomore, may be all these things. And perhaps this explains why Turzilli just needed a little time to grow, a little time to mature — and why he’s now adding another dimension to a Kansas passing game that was cardboard flat for the season’s first two games.
Last week against TCU, the 6-foot-4 Turzilli finished with three receptions for a career-high 100 yards. He hauled in two catches for more than 40 yards. Quarterback Dayne Crist suddenly had a reliable deep threat.
And when KU returns to the field at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for its first road test at Northern Illinois, Turzilli will be in the starting lineup for the first time in his career.
“I think he knows he belongs,” Crist says.
For the better part of the last year, this is what the Kansas coaching staff has been pleading and pushing for. During spring ball and fall camp, Turzilli’s gifts stood out. But something was missing. The Jayhawks had three seniors — Daymond Patterson, D.J. Beshears and Kale Pick — slotted into the starting receiver spots, and Turzilli was just too passive.
“You have to be willing to take an older guy’s job,” KU coach Charlie Weis says. “And sometimes people don’t understand that. You have to be willing to not say, ‘Well, he’s a senior, when he’s gone, then it will be mine.’ You have to be willing to go take it.”
Turzilli, of course, has always been this way. When he committed to Kansas and then-coach Mark Mangino before his senior year of high school, where he was a two-sport star in basketball and football in Butler, N.J., he went months without telling anyone outside his close circle of friends and family.
Turzilli also says that he had problems mastering the playbook during his first two years in Lawrence. As a result, he had just three catches last season as a redshirt freshman, and he could never put his 4.45-second 40-yard dash time to work.
“I wasn’t able to play as fast as I wanted to,” he says.
An injury to Pick in the Rice loss opened the door for Turzilli, who moved past Beshears on the depth chart.
“He wasn’t just a bigger guy,” Weis says. “He was also getting open.”
The hope is that Turzilli’s big-play potential — along with the emergence of junior Chris Omigie — will give Crist some more playmakers.
After beginning the season with two straight clunkers, Crist found a measure of success against TCU, finishing 19 for 39 passing for more than 300 yards. All week long, Weis had told Crist to relax and have fun. But perhaps some of the good times were derived from seeing Turzilli streaking down the sideline while gaining some separation from defenders.
“I just like to make the big plays,” Turzilli says.
Consider: In the Jayhawks’ first two games, Crist completed two passes for more than 20 yards. With Turzilli and Omigie more involved against TCU, Crist hit on five completions that went for at least that long.
“The thing with me and Dayne,” Turzilli says, “… before the ball is snapped, we kind of look at each other. And we know he’s gonna throw it to me. He makes that little signal at me — I’m going deep.”
This is part of what Turzilli imagined when Crist arrived from Notre Dame. Turzilli loves studying other wideouts. And when Crist arrived, he immediately recalled Michael Floyd, a former standout receiver from Notre Dame who had served as one of Crist’s deep threats at Notre Dame.
“Dayne’s got a real strong, powerful arm,” Turzilli says.
Turzilli had one crucial drop against TCU — a back-shoulder throw that haunted him for a few days afterward. But Turzilli says he’s mostly moved on. He’s a starter now. And there’s plenty more catches to make.
“I just have a little bit more confidence when I’m out there,” Turzilli says, “so it’s definitely a change.”