KNOXVILLE — It’s been an eye-opening first week of big-time college football practice for Woody Quinn.
Tennessee coaches have made sure the tight end’s ears are part of the experience, too.
The junior college transfer’s name — intentionally incorrect variations of it, too — has been a common one in first-year coach Butch Jones’ wireless microphone during the Volunteers’ first six preseason practices, but Quinn is using that to fuel his adjustment.
“I haven’t paid much attention to it, but it definitely wasn’t Woody yesterday,” he said, drawing laughs from reporters after Wednesday night’s practice. “I don’t know if my name was in the mic as much today, so that’s good, although I didn’t feel like I had a great practice. I’ve got a lot to improve on.
“I’ve got to earn my name and earn my stripe, and it’s just a motivator for me.”
As with nearly everything Jones does, there’s a reason behind him referring to the 6-foot-6, 253-pound Quinn as “Wally” and “Willie” and calling him soft in practices earlier this week. Tennessee’s tight end position is a bit in flux with the graduation of the reliable Mychal Rivera, and Brendan Downs is the only returning player with experience at the position. The Vols need Quinn to contribute immediately this season, and the coaches are pushing him to be ready.
“He’s taking that hard but not losing confidence with it,” tight ends coach Mark Elder said after Tuesday’s practice. “He understands that I’m coaching him and Coach Jones is coaching him to get better, and that’s our ultimate goal. It’s not to get on him because we like doing that — it’s to get him better.
“The thing that we always say is you don’t worry when you’re being coached, you worry when you’re not. If you’re not doing something right, and a coach just lets it go by, that’s not good. That means, ‘I’m not sure he can do this,’ but we’re on him. Why? Because we think that he’s got ability, he can help us, he’s going to be able to contribute for us.”
Quinn has one of the more interesting backstories on Tennessee’s roster. His father was an All-America swimmer and water polo player who competed on the U.S. water polo team. After playing football as a freshman at St. Margaret’s High School in California in 2006, Quinn began playing volleyball, and that path took him to Pepperdine and California Baptist.
He said he was “itching” to play football throughout his volleyball career and admitted it was difficult to watch games. He’d watch football games and believe he had the ability to play it at a high level, so he transferred to Santa Ana College last summer to play football and, after adding 45 pounds in five months, caught 15 passes for 252 yards last year.
His first contact with Tennessee was with the Vols’ previous coaching staff, specifically safeties coach and West Coast recruiter Josh Conklin. Shortly after moving to Knoxville, Elder and the Vols’ new staff took notice.
Though Quinn was raw as a player, Tennessee liked his size, frame and athletic ability and saw some attractive potential as a blocker and receiver.
“It was intriguing when you then learned that hey, this is his first time playing football in a while,” Elder said. “When you saw things that you liked and you realized, ‘Boy, he hasn’t even been doing this very long,’ you get even a little bit more excited about that, saying, ‘OK, I know it’s going to be a learning curve for him and it’s going to take him a little while, because he doesn’t have as much of a base.’
“But at the same time, as he gets it, he’s going to have a higher ceiling because of the fact that he’s not maxed out. It’s not like he’s been taking these reps for 10 years and he is what he is. That was an encouraging thing and something we liked about him as well.”
Quinn realizes how much he needs to polish his game and acknowledges his potential, and though he admits he doesn’t like the coaches’ tough-love approach, he’s appreciative of how invested they are in him.
“I’ve been having trouble sleeping,” he said, “because at night I start thinking of stuff and I feel myself starting to sweat and stuff like that, and I’ve got to tell myself to relax and get my sleep and the next morning regroup, focus and come into every team meeting in the morning ready to attack.
“If you learn one thing from Coach Jones and the staff, they come in at 6:30 after some have been here and didn’t even sleep [and] they’re fired up and attacking the day. That’s what I try to do, and even before practice, I just totally flip my mindset and really, really flip the switch. That’s something that I’ve been working on since I first got here in the weight room and now even more on the field.”
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...