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April 6, 2010
A trash-talker may intimidate. A jarring hitter can inspire dread. A ball-hawk may cause second thoughts of throwing in his direction. Yet the scariest defensive players typically are those that offenses must account for on every play.
"I guess you don't have to be a big trash-talker to scare opponents," said Quinn, who had 11 sacks and 12 quarterback hurries last season. "If they're constantly chipping you, they're showing you respect."
"He's definitely a guy that you have to know where he is," Holtz said. "You have got to have a plan in case your tackle can't block him because that's a distinct possibility."
Hey, ease up on offensive tackles. Seriously, if a brain tumor can't stop Quinn, what chance does a tackle have?
When Quinn was a 17-year-old senior at Charleston (S.C.) Fort Dorchester, he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. The tumor was so deeply imbedded in his brain that doctors felt it was inoperable and instead drilled underneath it to drain spinal fluid and release pressure in October 2007.
"I just tried to keep things in reality," Quinn said of that ordeal. "There were two possibilities - either I could play football or I couldn't play football. I always tried to stay on the upside. People around me were more worried than I was.
"My mom was real, real worried. But if anybody came to see me in the hospital I told them, 'I'm all right; don't worry. I'll be back to a normal life.' "
A few months after the surgery, he won the state high school wrestling championship. By the next September, he was in the North Carolina starting lineup. Last season, he earned first-team All-ACC recognition after leading the conference with 19 tackles for loss.
That's enough to inflate most egos to enormous proportions. But while Quinn's performance has soared, his feet remain firmly planted.
"I'm really just a humble guy," he said. "That's how I was raised. And what I've been through with my brain tumor problems, I know anything can be taken away from you. I don't take my talent for granted, but I don't try to brag or anything."
That's OK. UNC coaches will do that for him.
"Robert has all the ability to be a special player," Tar Heels coach Butch Davis said. "He's such a humble young man who has persevered through so much in his life to be the kind of great human being that he is.
"He plays with tremendous tenacity, is a strong player and has a chance to be one of the best defensive linemen in the country."
Count Holtz among those convinced.
"I remember him as a recruit coming out. He had the brain tumor and he came back from that," Holtz said. "He's athletic, quick, fast, big ? use any word you want to put. He's just athletic and a great player. I know he had a lot of sacks for them.
"You have to watch out for the speed he has off the edge and his athleticism. And as big as he is, he can overpower you. You've got to chip him or have a tight end help out."
Apparently, everybody has figured that out.
"In the Miami and Pittsburgh games, they let me know they were aware of where I was," Quinn said. "In the Miami game, I got chipped every play but one. Against Pittsburgh, it seems like they constantly cracked back on me."
That's the price of respect. Still, despite paying that price, Quinn - with 13 career sacks and two remaining years of eligibility - could threaten Greg Ellis' school record of 32.5 career sacks.
That is, if he stays at North Carolina for four years like several of his teammates, who could have entered this year's draft, but opted to stay in school for the 2010 season. Tackle Marvin Austin and linebacker Quan Sturdivant likely would have been taken in the first two or three rounds.
In all, the Tar Heels return nine starters from last season's defense, which allowed just four opponents to score more than 20 points.
"We know the potential we have," Quinn said. "The newspaper can say one thing, but on-field performance says another. We know we can be great. We just have to go out on the field and perform great."
Quinn certainly has.
THE 12 SCARIEST DEFENDERS
Oklahoma E Jeremy Beal
Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict
Iowa E Adrian Clayborn
Nebraska T Jared Crick
Ohio State E Cameron Heyward
Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower
Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Purdue E Ryan Kerrigan
Clemson SS DeAndre McDaniel
Texas A&M E/LB Von Miller
Pittsburgh DE Greg Romeus
North Carolina E Robert Quinn
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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