Trey Quinn, This Year's Mr. Irrelevant, Is Anything but Irrelevant

David Gardner@@byDavidGardnerStaff WriterAugust 21, 2018

Washington Redskins' Trey Quinn (14), the final pick of the draft, runs across the field during the NFL football team's rookie minicamp at the Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va., Friday, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
B/R

RICHMOND, Virginia — Trey Quinn is standing on one of Washington's practice fields, squinting at a half-dozen reporters surrounding him. In the hours leading up to this impromptu interview, he'd dazzled during an early-morning training camp practice, tiptoeing along sidelines, sprinting past defenders and snagging seemingly impossible passes straight from the sky. At one point, his head coach, Jay Gruden, blew a whistle just to pause and praise the rookie wide receiver for a tight turn on a slant route.

"Excellent!" he shouted. "Excellent! Excellent!"

Now Quinn divides his attention between the questions coming from the group in front of him and the shouts coming from the group behind him, where some Sharpie-wielding fans are asking for autographs. Typically, seventh-round picks spend much more time plotting to make the practice squad than holding press conferences, but Quinn wasn't just any seventh-round pick: He was the last pick in the NFL draft, earning him the moniker "Mr. Irrelevant" as well as the adoration of underdog-loving Washington football fans.

Quinn is ambivalent about being Mr. Irrelevant. He understands that only a fraction of a percent of players who grow up dreaming of playing professional football make it to this point. Yet he looks at his athletic history—dunking as a 5'11" eighth-grader, throwing a no-hitter in the Little League World Series, setting the national high school receiving yards record, leading the NCAA in receptions last year—and sees little reason why he won't be able to respond to all of those who doubted him in the draft. Not only does Quinn plan to make the roster, but he also aims to make an impact as a rookie.

"I love the title," he says. "I love the thought of, 'Oh, you're irrelevant, get the hell out of here.' I want people to doubt me. That's what drives me. But it's one of those things—you can't eat the same meal your whole life. You get tired of that s--t. They can say it all they want. I won't tell them to stop. But I want to do something with it. I don't want to just make it a name. I want to make it a brand."

Quinn's confidence is part nature, part nurture. His father is a part-time bodybuilder who coached him in almost every sport until he was 13, and his mother is a former track star who at one point held the Louisiana 4A record in the high jump. (His grandfather, Bobby Keasler, was also the head football coach at McNeese State and Louisiana-Monroe.) Quinn excelled in every sport he tried. At S.J. Welsh Middle School in Lake Charles, Louisiana, he started at guard in basketball, pitched in baseball, ran track and played running back.

He quit basketball in eighth grade but kept playing baseball for another two years. By then, he'd moved to center field, and in between pitches in a game against his school's rival in his sophomore year, he became so bored that he repeatedly threw his glove up in the air, caught it like a punt and made a move like he was about to jet up the field to return it. "My coach didn't like that too much," Quinn says. "I got chewed out after the game. And that's where I noticed I was more of a football guy. I like an adrenaline rush. I like to be physical."

Until he arrived at Barbe (Louisiana) High School, Quinn had been a running back in an option offense. His first snap at wide receiver was his first day of practice his freshman year. By the end of high school, he'd set what is still a national record in career receiving yards with 6,566. He'd also reeled in 70 touchdown catches and offers from colleges across the country.

"I don't know how I caught all those passes," Quinn says. "I had two great quarterbacks in high school (Jared Foster, who went on to play the same position at LSU, and Kennon Fontenot, who eventually played baseball at Louisiana-Lafayette). They did most of the work for me. I just put my hands out. You know like in The Sandlot? 'Just stand there and stick your glove in the air.' It was one of those deals. Those quarterbacks would just put it right there for me."

Although he came "within seconds," he says, of committing to Clemson, where offensive coordinator Chad Morris had been recruiting him, he instead opted to stay home and suit up for LSU. Through two disappointing seasons in a dragging offense, Quinn started nine games and caught just 22 passes for 276 yards and no touchdowns. In the spring of 2016, after his sophomore season, he decided to transfer. And this time, he did sign with Morris, who had since become the head coach of SMU.

Since he knew he'd have to sit out the season, Quinn started looking for another competitive outlet to fill football's void. He found it in mixed martial arts. He'd watched UFC bouts as a boy, but he didn't become a big fan until he started watching Ronda Rousey. He thought to himself, "This chick kicks ass, and I want to, too." So he found a former Bellator fighter who taught muay thai at a gym near his home in Louisiana and began taking lessons.

"I'd actually never fought before, so I didn't have, like, some urge to do it," he says. "But the first time throwing a punch is exhilarating. And being able to do whatever the f--k you want in the ring is appealing. … It gave me something to look forward to in that year off."

He also spent plenty of time engaged in fierce video game battles. During some away game weekends, Morris would ask Quinn to housesit for him, checking in on his son Chandler and walking his three dogs. One time, Quinn invited over his roommate, Sean Tuohy Jr. (the son of The Blindside family), and Chandler invited over his high school teammate, John Stephen Jones (the grandson of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones). Playing Mario Tennis, Quinn and Jones matched up against Tuohy and Morris. It didn't go well.

"I got so frustrated because the dude I was playing with wasn't a gamer," Quinn says now with a laugh. "I said, 'Can we please switch teams?' They said, 'Nope.' I was so competitive, I was like, 'F--k it, I'm going to bed. Y'all can catch me later. I'm going to have to get a better teammate next time we play.'"

In his first season at SMU, Trey Quinn led the nation in receptions and scored 13 touchdowns.
In his first season at SMU, Trey Quinn led the nation in receptions and scored 13 touchdowns.Michael Hickey/Getty Images

When he got back on the field for the 2017 season, Quinn picked up where he'd left off in high school. In the opener against Stephen F. Austin, he shed four would-be tacklers on his way to a 35-yard touchdown—the first of his collegiate career. Playing opposite future second-round pick Courtland Sutton, Quinn finished the season with an NCAA-leading 114 catches for 1,236 yards and 13 scores.

In the break between the regular season and the bowl game, he debated his next steps. His plan at SMU had been to play just one season and then break for the NFL, but other options had become available.

If he returned to the Mustangs, he could inherit an offense in which he was the main focus. Or if he graduated, he could follow Morris to Arkansas—which had hired Morris in early December—and play immediately as a graduate transfer and finally score a touchdown in LSU's Death Valley. "I had my whole celebration planned out," he says. "I was definitely going to get a flag."

In the end, he stuck to his plan and declared for the NFL draft. He got some attention at the combine thanks to his large hands (which measured as the second-largest among players there) and his 4.55 time in the 40-yard dash, which (though it clocked faster than only eight other receivers) was faster than many expected. One observer even pegged him as a potential third- or fourth-round pick. B/R's Matt Miller correctly had Quinn as a seventh-rounder in his final mock draft, citing his limited speed and size as his main drawbacks.

Quinn, as always, was confident. He expected to be drafted any time starting in the second round, so he and his family threw a Mardi Gras-style bash for draft weekend. Everyone was partying, but Quinn was pissed.

"After the first round, I was like, 'F--k this!'" Quinn says. "I texted my agent after every receiver picked. I was like, 'Who the hell is picking these people?' I wish for the best for everyone taken ahead of me, but the competitor in me and the confidence I have in myself, I feel like I'm capable of doing as much or way more than any of those guys.

"All my life, I've tried to do the best in my circumstances, and I have produced. I don't need the credit, but I haven't gotten the credit. I don't need it to continue. I just need an opportunity."

At SMU, the staff had asked each player to provide a picture of their motivation for playing football. Many people on the team sent pictures of loved ones, but Quinn forwarded the coaches a series of taunting tweets he'd been tagged in. He had them print the tweets and place them prominently in his locker. And now, he uses the Mr. Irrelevant tag as the same sort of motivation.

"Mr. Irrelevant couldn't have happened to a better person—he'll defy all the odds again," Morris says. "It was a fitting introduction to the NFL for this young man, because all he's ever done is prove people wrong. He's been doubted all the way through life, and this will be no different. Not only is he going to make the roster, he's going to have an outstanding career in the league."

With Washington, he projects as a slot receiver, and he was listed on the third string when the team released an unofficial depth chart early last week. Listed at 6'0" and 203 pounds, Quinn has good fundamentals, from crisp route running to clean pass-catching. He could also contribute as a punt returner, but Washington drafted him to play wide receiver, and that's where receivers coach Ike Hilliard expects Quinn to contribute.

With good hands and precise route-running, Quinn feels he has a chance to stick with Washington as a slot receiver as a rookie.
With good hands and precise route-running, Quinn feels he has a chance to stick with Washington as a slot receiver as a rookie.Steve Helber/Associated Press

"There isn't a route he can't run," Hilliard says. "His feel is across the middle, which you can appreciate as a receivers coach. All guys aren't built that way. He has a great feel for winning in man coverage and a great feel for sitting down in open spaces in zones. He's a friendly target. He has great hands. You can see that he's a quarterback's best friend."

Quinn himself doesn't have any doubts that he'll make the roster or that he'll have a long career in football. And once that is done, he plans on pursuing his other dream: MMA.

"I already get plenty of adrenaline in my day job," he says. "I'm the smallest guy out here, trying to butt heads with guys who are 6'5", 250 pounds-plus. But when football is done, MMA is the deal. On my bucket list, too: I want to hop on a bull. I just want to see how long I can go and what kind of adrenaline rush it is. I want to skydive. But I have to wait till after football. So, you know, 20, 21 years from now. Something like that."

At the end of his group interview, Quinn shakes hands with each of the reporters and listens intently as they list their names and affiliations. And after, he jogs over to the fans to sign autographs for the dozen or so kids who have waited him out. It's just a small group, but he smiles as they all call him "Trey" instead of "Mr. Irrelevant."

Next year, he knows, there will be another Mr. Irrelevant. But by then, he hopes everyone will know that there is only one Trey Quinn.

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