Hurricanes have precocious freshman at middle linebacker
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) Miami Hurricanes freshman linebacker Shaquille Quarterman sat down at a media day luncheon Monday with a plate of hot food and was greeted by inquisitive strangers.
''Can you talk and eat at the same time?'' someone asked.
''Absolutely,'' he said brightly.
Twenty minutes later, Quarterman was still talking and had yet to touch his lunch, thanks to several waves of media.
Only 18, he's a true freshman but a BMOC, a first-team middle linebacker and a cornerstone of new Miami coach Mark Richt's restoration project.
The Hurricanes believe Quarterman is a throwback to the era when they were winning national championships and sending linebackers to the NFL with regularity. And like those Hurricanes of yesteryear, Quarterman has the gift of gab.
''You can never be too talkative on defense,'' he said.
Quarterman is making himself heard even though the first class of the fall semester is still two weeks away. It helps that he enrolled last winter, and by the end of spring practice he had climbed to the top of the depth chart.
''I actually don't feel like a freshman,'' he said. ''That can be used as an excuse. I have such responsibility, I'm just another Cane. I have to make sure everybody on the defense is in the right place, and I have to relay the calls. If there's a breakdown in communication, it's on me.''
Richt said Quarterman's teammates have accepted the notion of a teenager calling the defense.
''He has great characteristics of a leader,'' Richt said. ''He works hard. He studies. He behaves. He does all the things you would want a leader to do, and I think he has gained the respect of our team.
''Sometimes a freshman can come in and get into a starting role and there might be some resentment, especially if a guy is real cocky or brash or acts like he owns the place.
''Sometimes it's hard to swallow for some of these veterans. But when a guy comes in with a humble spirit, works his tail off and just physically gets the job done, like Shaq did, I think they're embracing the guy.''
Quarterman was highly recruited out of Orange Park, Florida, where he made 412 tackles in high school. He might be Miami's most precocious player since quarterback Brad Kaaya, who threw for 3,238 yards as a true freshman in 2014.
Kaaya said the 240-pound Quarterman's potential was evident on the first play of his first college scrimmage.
''He broke through and tackled the running back for a 10-yard loss, forced a fumble, and it was a touchdown for the defense,'' Kaaya said. ''He came ready to go.''
The Hurricanes are desperate for playmakers on defense. Last year they gave up 59, 58, 34 and 29 points in their regular-season losses.
Quarterman, who grew up a Hurricanes fan, is well aware that wasn't always the norm at Miami. He's especially fond of the 1986 team with George Mira Jr. at middle linebacker.
''He was a complete beast,'' Quarterman said. ''They were one of the best teams and had an unbelievable defense.''
That team played a year before Quarterman was born, but he has done his homework. He's also a fan of more recent Miami linebackers Ray Lewis, Sean Spence and Jon Beason, all of whom reached the NFL.
When it comes to Hurricanes history, the chatty youngster knows what he's talking about.