Quinn's Quest For Greatness

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Make no mistake, Robert Quinn wants to be a superstar.

He wants to play in the spotlight with all eyes on him, and to receive kudos for a job extremely well done after each football game. He also wants to be a Heisman Trophy winner.

Yes, North Carolina's junior defensive end wants to take home the hardware usually set aside for quarterbacks and running backs from teams in contention for the national championship or at least among the top 15. And when the award goes to someone out of the norm, like with defensive back Charles Woodson in 1997 or wide receiver Tim Brown in 1987, they play for schools steep in tradition like Michigan and Notre Dame, respectively, not North Carolina.

Hardware for Tar Heels is usually reserved for women's soccer, men's basketball and sometimes baseball. In fact, only one UNC player has ever been among the top five vote getters for the Heisman, and that was Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice, who was the only two-time runner-up (1948 and 1949) until Arkansas' Darren McFadden finished second in 2006 and 2007.

The only other Tar Heels to finish among the top 10 in receiving votes are Don McCauley at No. 9 in 1970, Mike Voight, No. 8 in 1976, and Julius Peppers, No. 10 in 2001.

"I don't mind y'all asking about it," Quinn said, smiling as always. "I think as long as I can stay focused and healthy, anything can happen."

Nobody playing a non-skill position has ever won the award, and only five players who didn't play skill positions have finished among the top three in the voting: Alex Karras, defensive tackle for Iowa in 1957; John Hicks, offensive tackle for Ohio State in 1973; and Hugh Green, defensive end for Pittsburgh in 1980 each placed second. Bobby Bell, a defensive tackle at Minnesota in 1962, and Dick Butkus, a center and linebacker at Illinois in 1964, both finished third.

To say Quinn has a great deal of history to overcome would be a tremendous understatement.

"He's got the potential, over the next two seasons, to be as good as anybody we've ever coached," said his coach, Butch Davis.

And Davis, who doesn't like to mince words, has a keen understanding of what a great college football player looks like. One can easily argue the fourth-year UNC coach has been around several of the sport's greatest collegians ever at their respective positions.

As an assistant and head coach at Miami at different times in the 1980s and 1990s – he left to coach the Cleveland Browns following the 2000 season - Davis saw safety Ed Reed, linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive tackle Russell Maryland, offensive tackle Joaquin Gonzalez, quarterback and Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde, and wide receiver Michael Irvin solidify themselves as stars. He knows what college stars look like.

As sensational as those players were, most were never considered Heisman hopefuls. But Quinn believes with 27 sacks – that apparently is his goal – and some fumble recoveries, maybe an interception and a couple of touchdowns, he can generate enough attention to challenge for the award.

UNC plans on distributing promotional notecards, notepads, and posters to reach as many members of the media as it can.

Of course, the football Tar Heels will have to do their part as well. A 9-3 UNC team won't produce a Heisman winner under nearly any circumstance, but an 11-1 or 12-0 unit can. The odds of that happening are slim, even if Carolina's offense is significantly improved.

Quinn registered 11 sacks a year ago and had 19 tackles for a loss of yardage. An important factor in his production this season might be the availability of defensive tackle Marvin Austin. Austin, who at 312 pounds absorbs blockers so Quinn and the others can have an easier path to the quarterback.

Austin, though, could miss any number of games if the NCAA finds that he violated rules in taking benefits from an agent or a former teammate.

Even without Austin anchoring his part of the line, UNC will still field a terrific defense, of which Quinn will still be the focal point. His supporting cast is equal or better than the talented group that played alongside Lawrence Taylor through 1980, and is far superior to the bunch that aided Julius Peppers a decade ago.

Yet, Taylor had a monster senior season and Peppers' final year resulted in him winning the Lombardi Award, which goes to the best lineman in the country. Quinn is quite familiar with their accomplishments, along with Marcus Jones, one of Carolina's greatest sack artists of all-time.

Quinn has the potential to be better collegians than those guys.

"When someone tells me something like that it makes me want to work harder," Quinn said. "Why stop working hard? Continue to work hard and perfect your craft, as they say. It's a good thing to be put in that category, but the bad thing is the expectations. But with me, it just makes me work a lot harder."

Working harder means improvement, and it's hard for opponents to imagine Quinn playing at a higher level.

"He's really good, I mean he is really, really good," said Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. "You can't ever think he's not going to get to you, because he can get to you in a flash."

The South Carolina native will need to flash to the quarterback for a sack nearly 2.5 times a game to reach his goals. A few forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, an interception or two and a couple of touchdowns must accompany a sick sack total. Quinn is certainly capable, so says teammate and senior safety Deunta Williams.

"If Robert says he can do it than I believe he can and expect him to."

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For more ACC coverage from Andrew Jones, visit FoxSportsCarolinas.com


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