(Andrew Beaton’s article appeared in The Wall Street Journal, 1/10/2024; Photo: The Wall Street Journal)

Before Kobie Turner emerged as standout defensive tackle for the Los  Angeles Rams, he was a multitalented musician and the star of his college a cappella group

Back when he was a standout defensive tackle on the University of Richmond football team, Kobie Turner spent the morning of homecoming reviewing his playbook, taping his joints and limbering up to play in the marquee game of the season.

Then came the performance where he really starred. Once the final whistle sounded, he raced home for a quick shower, hustled to the school chapel and arrived just in time to sing at a concert with his a cappella group.

It was the second time that day he had performed in front of a crowd, and he still laments that his second show suffered slightly because of the first one.

“A little bit less voice than I would have wanted,” Turner says. “You’re obviously screaming at a football game.” 

These days, Los Angeles Rams fans better know Turner as the rookie defensive tackle who strikes fear into opposing quarterbacks. He has a team-high nine sacks entering Sunday’s playoff game against the Detroit Lions, and his sensational play explains how the Rams have executed a rapid rebuild and returned to the postseason even after trading away all of their first-round draft picks for the better part of a decade. No team is better at finding hidden gems—including one who celebrates big plays by waving his arms like an orchestra conductor. 

But Turner isn’t an unlikely breakout star simply because he was a middle round draft pick. He was also a walk-on at a school that doesn’t even play at the highest level of college football. And that same school offered him a music scholarship before it finally gave him a football one. 

“I didn’t even know him at all as a football guy,” says Anna Tartline, who was in chorus and a cappella with Turner at Richmond. “He was a music guy.”

Turner learned to love music through his mother, a choir buff. Eventually, choir became a “huge, huge” part of his own life, he says. He learned how to play numerous instruments and believed those skills could be his ticket for a college scholarship and then a career in music. 

It turns out that the same intelligence and tireless work ethic that allowed him to pick up everything from the piano to the ukulele is what the football coaches at Centreville High School in Virginia noticed about Turner. While his football skills were rather raw, he was both quick to learn and willing to put in the necessary time to improve. 

And it wasn’t easy for Turner to spend hours in the weight room bulking up like the other players on the football team. He had to juggle his nascent football career with music classes, advanced math courses, and three a cappella groups. 

“I don’t know how he could be in all those places at once,” says Anthony Rozzoni, an assistant coach who ran Centreville’s weight room. “How do you find the time to do all that?” 

Rozzoni helped Turner make the time. Because Turner’s heavy course load meant that he couldn’t attend the team’s weightlifting sessions during the school day, Rozzoni trained him privately after school. 

Still, Turner’s highlights on the football field, which included singing the national anthem before one of the team’s games, didn’t have Division I college coaches clamoring to sign him up. It did strike a chord with the Richmond coaches, though, when they paid an in-home visit to one of his best friends and found Turner lurking in the corner of the room waiting for a chance to introduce himself. They studied Turner’s tape and eventually brought him on campus for a visit. That’s where he really blew their minds—when he spotted the organ in the university’s chapel.

“Can I go play that?” Turner asked. 

Soon, the empty chapel had attracted a small crowd of people who had emerged from their offices just to listen to him play. 

“He just starts playing,” says Justin Wood, the school’s defensive coordinator, “and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Still, Richmond’s football team didn’t have a scholarship to offer for him, and there was another college staff vying for his services. It just happened to be Richmond’s music department. 

Turner was offered a music scholarship after he auditioned at the school, but after some hard thought, he turned it down. Taking it would have locked him into certain commitments that would have hamstrung him when he wanted to make football his main focus. Because of the cost of tuition at Richmond, his parents told him he had one year until he had to find a scholarship. 

It took him much less. After walking onto the team as a tight end, the Richmond coaches quickly realized he was a bad fit for the position. So they moved him to the defensive line, where he flashed enough promise to earn a scholarship before his sophomore year. To learn to play tackle, Turner studied tape of one player in particular: three-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald.

Turner, who decided to double major in math because his passion for music wasn’t enough, was just as busy with his other pursuits. That sophomore year, he sprinted from the homecoming football game to perform in the concert with his a cappella group called “Choeur Du Roi.” In French, that means “King’s Choir.” In English, it means they all wear corduroys when they sing. At the concert, Turner sang a version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that he arranged, and the performance ended with a rousing ovation from the crowd. 

Yuna Chung, Choeur Du Roi’s current president, says the group practiced three times a week and that Turner hardly ever missed a rehearsal. As a freshman, she looked up to him because he showed the same leadership musically as he did athletically. She also offered a scouting report on his vocal skills: He’s a strong beat boxer and a delightful bass. 

“Sometimes, he would add a high note out of nowhere and it would fit in perfectly,” Chung adds.

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