UT tight end Woody Quinn talks about his excitement to begin practice on Friday
Standing 5 feet from Tennessee’s 1998 BCS championship trophy and engulfed by 22 reporters recording his every word, Woody Quinn offered this confession: “I never thought that I’d end up here.”
Just moments before, he strolled into UT’s lavish Anderson Training Center with a perceptible sense of California cool. Quinn, the Vols’ mysterious new tight end, sported large shades, blue and green shorts that words can’t describe and white socks pulled up to mid-calf.
Quickly, a UT staffer tossed Quinn a black golf shirt adorned with a proper Power T. He was directed into the Anderson Center pavilion as the media scurried into position. Immediately he was peppered like a bland steak.
“What’s it like to all the sudden be in the middle of all this?” Quinn was asked.
“I wouldn’t say it’s nerve-wracking, it’s just new,” the 6-foot-6 21-year-old said on Thursday. “It’s flattering, but at the same time humbling, in that I know this is fun and kind of cool and this is Tennessee, but I still haven’t done anything.”
Which makes this all the more interesting.
Quinn stuck out among all the Vols to arrive for Thursday’s official preseason camp check-in. He’s an enigma — a volleyball player turned SEC football player from the sand and splendor of Orange County, Calif.
Friday will bring Quinn to the UT practice fields alongside his new teammates. At this time last year, he was preparing to line up on the football field for the first time in five years.
Rewinding to August 2012, Quinn was at Santa Ana College, a junior college 30 miles south of Los Angeles. A promising volleyball career had brought him from St. Margaret’s Episcopal High School to Pepperdine University to California Baptist University.
The long road of spikes and sets had a rearview mirror, though. Quinn always remembered back to playing football as a freshman on the junior varsity team at St. Margaret’s. It was an itch he couldn’t scratch.
“I kind of had this volleyball thing going and I didn’t want to mess it up,” he said Thursday, adding, “It was hard for me to watch football, thinking I wish I could do that or I think I can do that.”
So Quinn did it. He says he “took the leap” back to football, hoping merely to land at a Division I program after a year at the juco level. Now he’s suddenly in the big, bad SEC.
Here’s how: Late last season former UT assistant Josh Conklin got his hands on Quinn’s game film from Santa Ana, where he caught 15 passes, one for a touchdown. Natural gifts were exposed. Despite knowing a guillotine hung above his head, Conklin continued to recruit Quinn while waiting to be fired in the closing days of the Derek Dooley Era.
After being fired, Conklin left Quinn’s information behind for his successors. He still wanted him to land at Tennessee.
“That was recruiting in its purest form,” Quinn said.
New UT tight ends coach Mark Elder finished the job for Conklin, offering Quinn a scholarship and securing a commitment.
Now comes the hard part. Quinn will step on the field Friday with little learning curve. The season starts in 30 days, a tight box of time to learn coach Butch Jones’ offense, get acclimated to the speed of the game and, you know, prepare for his second year of football since 2006.
“It’s three weeks so it’s going to be a long road,” he said. “I’m excited, but I’m going to go out every day with the right attitude. It’s not make-or-break on day one for me. For a lot of the guys, it’s a building process. It’s a work day tomorrow.”
Remembering back to last season at Santa Ana, Quinn tells the story of his first game. His name was called on the opening play. Running a 10- or 12-yard pattern, he turned to catch a pass as the pitter-pat of cleats closed in from behind.
“The cornerback thought he was going to light me up,” Quinn recounted.
Taking the hit, he tussled forward, fought back and finally went down.
“After that it was like, all right, this is going to be good,” Quinn said.
And it was good, which is why Quinn is here.
Whether he believes it or not.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee football and men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.