There is something special about senior year in high school. It’s a particularly bittersweet time in life; the pinnacle of the high school experience but also the final year enjoying the friendships and familiarities developed over several years.
For high school football players it’s a similarly sentimental time, as it marks the final season spent under the Friday night lights. We spoke with several NFL players to discuss what makes this time in life so unique, and to share some of the lessons they’d like to impart to the class of 2012. This week’s inaugural edition features St. Louis Rams rookie Robert Quinn. Check back every Wednesday for the next five weeks for another installment of Senior Season.
Defensive end Robert Quinn, the St. Louis Rams’ first round pick this past April by way of UNC, attended high school at Fort Dorchester in North Charleston, S.C., and shared with us his inspiring story from his senior season.
As his final fall playing football for Fort Dorchester was nearing its conclusion, Quinn was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that required surgery and prematurely ended his final campaign with the Patriots.
"With my situation I learned that I was going to miss the rest of my final football season and it was really tough," said Quinn. “But I realized that it was something I couldn’t control and for the first couple of days after learning the details I was down about it. But after a while I decided that no matter what I was going to enjoy my life.
"I decided that if I was going to die in a week I was going to make sure I was happy,” Quinn said. "I don’t think anybody wants to die sad. I know it’s crazy to have thought this at 17, but at the time we didn’t really know the outcome of the situation and I developed this positive attitude while lying in that hospital bed. It was kind of weird because I knew that I had to help keep my parents and friends positive because they were looking to me."
After fully recovering Quinn was cleared to resume his athletic career, including back on the wrestling mat, where he was a three-time heavyweight state champ in 4A wrestling. Just three months after surgery Quinn went undefeated on his way to another state wrestling crown, a testament to his resolve and the positive perspective honed in the hospital.
Quinn endured this challenging time and went on to a strong college career as a Tar Heel at UNC and is now an emerging force for the Rams, with three sacks and a NFL special teams player of the week award already in his rookie campaign. While he never got to experience that final game on the gridiron with his teammates, he still fondly recollects the big games that defined his high school career.
"What I really remember about my high school days was playing in the big games," recalled Quinn. "Our biggest rivalry was with Summerville (Summerville, S.C.). They had A.J. Green of the Bengals and legendary coach (John) McKissick. When we played them it was the biggest thing in town; everybody showed up on Friday night and the town had a special feel and energy to it. Being under those lights was a great feeling. Although we were never able to beat them when I played, it was still special because everyone knew each other and had grown up together with their school being just a few minutes down the road. I did beat them in seventh grade on the B-team, but never got them in high school."
The tradition and pomp of the rivalry still resonates with Quinn.
"My junior year we had a big pep rally for the Summerville game and they had a skeleton figure of coach McKissick and threw it in a coffin. I know it sounds weird but it was all in fun and symbolized how we were wanted to beat them bad that week. It’s just one of those funny moments I remember that could only come from my high school days."
With the help of his father, who drove him to visit schools on most weekends during the summer leading up to senior year, Quinn navigated the recruiting process as a top football prospect.
"My advice to any players for the recruiting process would be to first rely on your parents or guardians or whomever is watching over you," said Quinn. "It’s really important to have priorities for what you are really looking for in a school and program. The facilities, campus and all of that are important, but it’s the people that really matter. Make sure you feel comfortable with the teammates you’ll be joining and the coaches you’ll be playing for, because the people really define your college experience more than anything else.
"A freshman in college also needs to learn to adapt,” Quinn said. “Be prepared to adapt to new challenges academically and with coaching styles. In high school many top recruits have it all figured out, but when you get to that next level it’s a new situation to adapt to. More than anything, you can’t let anyone persuade you where to go if you don’t feel comfortable. The only person waking up every day on that campus is you.
"More than anything it comes back to being positive, something I learned during my situation in senior year,” Quinn said. “You have to be positive about the experiences you go through, because that is the one thing you can truly control."