JACKSONVILLE – Linebacker Shaq Quarterman, a fourth-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2020 NFL Draft, played at the University of Miami and Oakleaf High School near Jacksonville. He was a four-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection – including first team as a junior and senior – who became the only player in school history to play 52 games without missing a start. He recently joined senior writer John Oehser to talk about the streak, his longtime plan for playing in the NFL and what it means to play for his hometown team. Here's the O-Zone Conversation with Quarterman:
Question: You told Head Coach Doug Marrone upon being drafted, "Coach, I'm just telling you now when my cleats are on the grass, I will do whatever you want me to do. I'm going to play." You're obviously confident. Where did that come from?
Answer: I've always had that type of confidence. It really came from my family. I had a lot of siblings and my brothers played all the sports. They played way more sports. I'm the baby of my family. Watching my brothers excel, it really prompted me to never doubt myself. As long as I made a plan and put in my work, there was no reason for me to doubt what was going to come in the future. I knew if I put in the work, I would be blessed in the future. It's never failed me thus far.
Q: A lot of guys have older brothers. Not everyone has "a plan."
I've always been that way, since I was a young lad. Even when it came to playing games, playing outside, I've always been strategic because I knew what I wanted to do. I knew action without a plan was not very productive. Especially when I got into football and I really fell in love with it in the eighth grade, I understood what it took to be a great football player. The on-field stuff was easy, but being bigger than football made me more than just a football player. For my community, for my city – I knew I had to do all of those things as well. I crafted my plan and stuck to it. It took some tuning sometimes, but it hasn't failed.
Q: A lot of guys who are good at an early age get off track somewhere along the line. It sounds like no way you were going to let that happen.
A: (Laughing) No, sir. I had a plan. I knew I was going to go to Miami. All you ever need is one opportunity. The only reason I prepared that way was for that opportunity, so when it came, I was ready. I believe you have to be ready. You can't just want an opportunity. A lot of people want it, but do you prepare for it? How much do you care to put time and effort to make sure when it comes you're ready to take it to the next level?
Q: You evidently decided early you wanted to go to Miami. How early?
A: About seventh or eighth grade. It was always one of my favorite schools. I did love Georgia when they had Mark Richt. I loved Auburn with Gus Malzahn. But I wasn't leaving Florida. The Gators were cool, but they were too close to home. Miami had everything. Form the history to the culture, from being close but not too far.
Q: But they weren't at the top of college football when you chose them. You had an offer from Alabama and chose Miami …
A: I always get to the right place when I follow my heart. My high school was 1-9 and 0-10 in the two years prior to me going there. (Laughing) My parents didn't want me to go there. But me and my friends – the friends I've had since second grade – made a plan and we weren't transferring. I'm a hometown guy. If we fail or win … if we do it together, that's fine by me. Because I did it the right way. We ended up going 12-1. We had some shining moments at Miami and we had some not-so shining moments. Regardless, my plan never faltered. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew the man I wanted to be. It's easy to go to 'Bama or Clemson. It's easier, but easier isn't always the best way.
Q: I read somewhere where the 1986 Miami team was your favorite? That's a decade before you were born …
A: That wasn't my favorite team, but my favorite players – the real pioneers of what I'm about – were definitely on that '86 team. That's what our defense was based on my freshman year. That's why we called ourselves the '86 Gang. That defense was the defense that propelled Miami to the next football.
Q: Not every young football player has an appreciation for the history of the game. You obviously do…
A: You have to respect the game. I think that's why I love the game so much, because I respect it so much. I didn't have to have the ability to do this, but the fact that I can … you have to do your due diligence. There are a lot of great linebackers. I'm a fanatic of good men and even better players. That's what I want to be, on and off the field.
Q: You made third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference as a true freshman, then some level of all-conference every year after that. So, success came early and often – but I bet you'll tell me it didn't come easy.
A: I didn't start becoming a vocal leader until 10th or 11th grade in high school. I'm a servant first. I see no problem with that. I would rather show that I'm dependable and people can depend on me before I bark at others. Because of that, I had to operate differently. I was always overlooked. I've always done well, but I never quite reached where I wanted to reach. I didn't go to the best camps. I was always in good company, but not where I belonged.
Q: Maybe your most striking statistic is you played all 52 games in college, the only player in Miami history to do that. How important was that to you?
A: It was everything to me. Consistency is greatness. Being consistently good is greatness, showing up every Saturday. I didn't really know anything about a record until I was really approaching it. I never thought about, "Oh, I'm starting all these games." I always thought, "I'm going out to play ball; I'm going out to do the best I can do for my team." It definitely came with a lot of work.
Q: You studied UM linebackers. Any in particular?
A: [Former Miami and former Carolina Panthers/New York Giants linebacker] Jon Beason was my mentor and he really took me under his wing. I modeled my game after him before I even got to college. I used to watch all his Carolina stuff. When I got my IPad and could watch his college tape my love for him grew even more. I got a chance to finally meet him and this man says, "I see a lot of me in you and if you do this, that, a fourth and a fifth you'll be great." When it's coming from your idol, I had no problem saying, "I'm falling behind you, chief." That's all it was.
Q. Back to the 52-game streak. How close did that come to ending? You play that many games, there must have been some close calls.
A: The streak was very close to ending my junior year. The first game of the season we played LSU. In the Wednesday practice I had a crazy, random back spasm. I fell to the floor in the middle of practice. I couldn't walk much. It turned out my hips were off in alignment. That was the closest I came to not playing. After that, I was doing so much rehab and preparing. They had me on the water treadmill … all types of stuff. And I still had to prepare for the game. I played every play except one.
Q: You take a lot of pride in being from Jacksonville. When the call came during the draft and you saw it was the Jaguars … take me through the reaction.
A: Honestly, it's very rare to get drafted by your hometown team. The craziest part was the [Atlanta] Falcons were picking shortly before them. I had gotten a certain text that I should expect good news. They come to pick, and they took a safety from Tennessee. So, then I'm receiving texts from all these 904 numbers because I was from here and people are coming out of the woodwork. I didn't think too much of it, but I get a call. I'm thinking, "This has to be different." Not many people call during the draft. I pick it up and it was so loud in my house, but for some reason I heard exactly what I needed to hear. It was like a movie. "Is this Shaquille Quarterman." I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "I heard you're from down the street." I said, "Yeah, I'm around the corner." He said, "How would you like to be a Jacksonville …." It means a lot. I feel as though I've accomplished so much in my community just by doing the best I can – from Oakleaf Middle School, to high school, to going to Miami in Florida. Now, being able to come home. There's just so much love there. I love my city like none other.
Q: Getting drafted in the NFL is a big deal. You get the idea when talking to some rookies that they're content with taking that step. That doesn't seem like the case with you.
A: For sure. Especially when you get picked in the fourth. That's a blessing as it is, but as a competitor I was very pissed off actually. I can't even pretend. I have a huge chip on my shoulder. I have a lot to prove. Especially at home. I can't falter at all. I'm down the street. My friends are going to make fun of me or something. I'm definitely ready to get cleats on the floor. That's what I told coach (Marrone). Whatever he needs from me, he'll soon see the Alpha Male, all that … it's not a joke. That's why I've progressed the way I have. The things I did at Oakleaf to be great and the things I took to Miami to be great are the same things I want to do back home with the Jacksonville Jaguars.