From LSU to SMU: Trey Quinn poised to capitalize on second chance
“Incomplete” is typically among the last words a wide receiver wants to hear.
And yet one an ardent, if at times mercurial, fan base can try its damnedest to make echo — even in its own players’ ears.
The definition is far different for Trey Quinn at the moment, though.
Two years at home-state LSU probably saw less warm, fuzzy fairytale feelings for the national record-setting Lake Charles product than overblown scrutiny, challenging frustration and resulting lessons learned.
But those chapters have far from closed the book on Quinn, who will have two years of eligibility remaining at SMU after redshirting this fall.
The change of scenery and offense brings a world of fresh potential for an athlete who started seven games as a true freshman in college football’s most highly touted league in 2014 — a new beginning for which he and his family can’t help but admit their excitement.
“I’m probably the most optimistic person about this whole deal,” he laughs, two weeks since moving to Dallas. “My dad was kind of like, ‘I don’t know how you put up with all this stuff.’ But I know, at the end of the day, God has a plan for me, and I’ve kinda bought into his plan and whatever he says goes goes, you know?
“But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just whether you wanna stay on the train or hop off. I’m staying on the train and continuing the path.”
CATCH AS CATCH CAN
Quinn caught a Louisiana record 357 passes for a national record 6,566 yards during four seasons at Barbe, including a staggering 70 touchdowns, three LSWA all-state selections and multiple all-America honors.
Clemson and Texas Tech were among LSU’s biggest competition for the 5-foot-11, 195-pound star, who ranked as high as the country’s No. 3 wide receiver prospect for the 2014 recruiting class.
But Quinn ultimately chose the home-state Tigers, two hours from home, over higher-powered passing offenses elsewhere — both Clemson and Texas Tech ranked in the top nine nationally in that category in 2013.
“You go there because you’re born and raised in Louisiana,” Quinn says. “There’s a lot of people asking questions like, ‘Why would you go into an offense like that?’ But you’re coming out of high school, and you see Odell (Beckham Jr.) and Jarvis (Landry) have so much success in their home state and how they were treated, and it’s kind of hard not to want to do that.”
Quinn earned seven starts in his first 10 college games despite LSU starting no more than two receivers in any of those contests and just one Sept. 6, 2014, against Sam Houston State.
He caught 16 passes for 190 yards (11.9 yards/catch) in that span as the clear No. 2 option for the Tigers’ meager passing attack, including 42 yards on two receptions in a 10-7 upset of previously undefeated No. 3 Ole Miss on Oct. 25, 2014.
But those opportunities began to dwindle even further after an uncharacteristic and untimely drop the next time out, Nov. 8, 2014, against Alabama.
Quinn, a sudden scapegoat, finished the season second on the team with 17 catches for 193 yards (11.4 yards/catch) with no starts and just one 3-yard reception in the final three games.
“I matured a lot after my freshman year — I’ll tell you that much,” he says. “I was able to realize, through that year, who’s with you and who’s not — who’s really a fan and who isn’t. I didn’t feel any pressure from the fans. I’m a mentally strong guy, so none of that really bothered me, but I think that was important.
“As far as the coaching staff, they’re trying to keep their jobs, so they’ve gotta do whatever they think is best. So I was just kind of going with the flow and taking advantage whenever the opportunity was given to me. I think that everybody can agree with me on my sophomore year that when I did get the opportunity to get the ball I capitalized on it. It is what it is, though. I’m glad I was able to learn that, and nothing can really faze me.”
Quinn started two of 12 contests as a sophomore, caught every one of the five passes his direction for 83 yards (16.6 yards/catch) and proved himself a willing blocker for LSU’s run-dominated offense.
His teammates praised him throughout the season, including quarterback Brandon Harris saying he couldn’t remember Quinn dropping a pass even in fall camp or practice.
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
The Tigers completed a signing class Feb. 3 that featured three wide receivers ranging from 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-6 and announced Feb. 13 a coaching change at the position for the second straight offseason.
Trey Quinn and fellow sophomore receiver Kevin Spears, a New Orleans native, each announced their intention to transfer Feb. 16.
“I went in and talked to coaches, and at the end of the day, they almost agreed with me that they’re not looking for a 5-11 guy that can’t run fast or jump and all that,” says Quinn, who has run a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. “I’m not the prototypical receiver that they’re looking for.
“I think if I had a message for any recruit coming out of high school, it’s to find that one school that you feel comfortable with that they’re gonna be there with you through thick and thin, regardless of the outcome on Saturday. I think that’s what I found the second time around.”
And, in some ways, very nearly the first time.
Quinn strongly considered signing with Clemson in 2014, thanks in no small part to his bond with offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
When the pass-catcher began seeking his next move, that relationship was a key draw to Dallas where Morris was just months removed from his first season as head coach.
“Really, this time around, he didn’t even talk football with me because he already kind of showed me before what he wanted to do with me in the offense,” Quinn says. “We already had the relationship built. Everything was there. And at the end of the day, I trusted coach Morris and knew that he would be up front with me when I was in the wrong and tell me what I needed to improve on and whatnot. I just think it was a good fit the second time around.”
So he decided in May to join Morris and the Mustangs, including another pair of familiar coaches.
Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock served as a Clemson assistant from 2012 to 2014.
And Quinn had also worked with wide receivers coach Justin Stepp during a camp in 2013 when Stepp, a Clemson assistant from 2009 to 2011, held the same position at Appalachian State.
“It was kind of obvious that I needed to get in an offense that would kind of feature me with a coach that believed in me,” Quinn says. “I trust in coach Morris. He’s always been a big fan, and we kept up a little bit. Even when I went to LSU instead of Clemson, he was checking in on me until the end, so I felt comfortable with the process and the transition to play for him.”
As did Trey’s parents, Dave and Angie, who remembered Morris — and Clemson’s staff overall — fondly from their son’s initial recruitment.
A comfort with Morris and the coaching staff as individuals played a major role.
But, as Trey pointed out, a fit and confidence in the offense itself was crucial.
“I think we saw this past fall he’s willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win,” Dave Quinn says. “He had to make some adjustments that he was asked to do and he did, but I think he wants to get back to feeling like he’s making more of an impact with the skill set he has. We as a family are excited, because it looks like maybe the fit’s gonna be such that they need those skills where he’s going.”
Trey thrived in an offense at Barbe which looked much more like that which Morris has brought to SMU than what has come under fire at times at LSU.
Clemson posted the top three scoring seasons in school history and four of its five best passing seasons in its history during Morris’ four years as coordinator, including 127 total offensive records: 89 individual and 38 team marks.
Those Tigers averaged 36.3 points and 299.4 passing yards per game during that tenure.
Morris and company then raised SMU’s scoring output by 16.7 points to 27.8 points per game this fall — the nation’s second-largest such turnaround — and its passing offense by 49.7 yards to 218.6 yards per game.
LSU has meanwhile averaged 32.4 points and 189.0 passing yards per contest in that five-year span, even despite a record-setting 2013 and a dominant 13-0 start in 2011 before finishing as runner-up.
Les Miles and company have posted averages of 30.1 points and 171.3 passing yards the past two seasons.
“When’s the team’s successful, it doesn’t matter what your stat sheet says or anything else related to you as an individual,” Dave Quinn explains. “But having said that, anybody who’s ever been around him knows what he’s capable of, and I think from a competitive standpoint, you want an opportunity to show what you can do. He plays receiver because he’s a very natural pass-catcher. He’s got speed, athleticism, body control. He’s got a lot of skills to do that.”
But Morris also doesn’t want his offense’s newest weapon to put his purple-and-gold past completely behind him, either.
The second-year head coach hopes sees the experience and lessons as potentially major benefits in his attempt to rebuild a Mustangs program that has enjoyed just four winning campaigns since the NCAA “Death Penalty” cost it its 1987 and 1988 seasons.
“Aside from being a football player, I think they’re looking for a lot out of me as far as bringing some SEC experience in and from a successful program like LSU,” Trey Quinn says. “They’re trying to rebuild SMU’s program here, so I think they look at me as not only a good player, but somebody that’s able to show and tell these guys and answer questions of what it was like at a national championship-caliber, top-five college.”
For all the ups and downs in Baton Rouge, this fall may mark Trey Quinn’s biggest challenge of all.
The Barbe star had always excelled at not only football, but baseball and track and field.
Many Louisiana high school fans were surprised when the potential MLB baseball prospect backed away from the sport to focus on the gridiron.
But the idea of spending a fall without even that primary game is even more difficult to fathom.
“It’s gonna be freakin’ tough, I can tell you that much,” Trey says with a big inhale, almost sighing. “But it’s a sacrifice I had to make. I felt like if I wanted a productive season with a coach that trusts me in the offense, then I might have to take that sacrifice of that one year. And I think at the end of the day, it will be work it.
“It’ll be tough, though.”
Quinn hasn’t been able to dive fully into the offseason routine yet in his short time in Dallas as he allows a nagging ankle sprain to fully recover.
But he admits some soreness from the activities in which he has already participated and says he’s been impressed with that aspect of the Mustangs’ program thus far.
“A lot of people were surprised when I told ’em that,” Quinn says. “But (strength and conditioning) coach (Trumain Carroll) has got a little plan that I think will set us up for success in the next couple of years and hopefully turn this thing around, and we can be one of those top teams like they were before.”
Until he’s able to start competing this spring for his spot in the pass-catching pecking order, he hopes to focus, too, on less visible aspects, such as being a leader and good teammate, that have always been such a big part of the player he’s been at every stop in the journey.
And his parents plan to start visiting Dallas for several games this fall to get more acclimated to the SMU football community and begin showing their investment and trust in the program before then trying to travel for even long road trips when Trey becomes eligible.
“As weird or ironic as the story is — because he had such an unbelievable high school career — he has yet to score a collegiate touchdown,” Dave Quinn says. “We think he did against New Mexico State (in 2014). Harris threw it to (Trey), and he turned it up field, and the referee ruled his foot got part of the white line on the sideline when he dove into the end zone.
“I like what coach Miles did. He’s respectful to the opponents, and he didn’t challenge it, but you watch the replay, and he scored … But for a guy who’s used to finding the end zone so frequently to have not technically scored, the first time he finds the end zone, I think we’ll cry like babies.”
The Quinns will keep LSU in their peripheral vision in the meantime as well.
“We left on really good terms,” Dave Quinn says. “People want us to say, ‘They should’ve thrown him the ball more, or you should’ve done this or that.’ We don’t have any of that in us. We’re not those kind of people. We’re grateful, and when we left, I did attend the meeting when Trey and coach Miles discussed his transfer situation, and it’s all good. The best part about it is Les Miles is a big Trey Quinn fan, and we’re big Les Miles and LSU fans.
“We are really pulling for those guys and wish them well. Personally, I’m an alumnus, and my daughter’s about to graduate from there, and it’s a great school and university, and I really think this is their year.”
Trey seems at ease fielding his new teammates’ questions about just how big or fast Tigers such as Kendell Beckwith and Leonard Fournette are in person.
And he even jokingly asks for help leading the campaign for a Heisman trophy award for LSU redshirt sophomore guard Will Clapp.
“I enjoyed it,” Trey says of his time in Baton Rouge. “I don’t have any regrets about going there. I think I learned a lot. I’m a tougher player and a tougher individual, so I think the two years there were good for me. At the end of the day, I think if I was just a student, I’d still be at LSU. I had a lot of friends there. But it’s tough not being involved in an offense when you think you’re fully capable of doing so.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Trey continued to cycle back to a Bible verse at times of frustration during the past two years.
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
The path has seen more hurdles — and a longer venture from home — than anticipated, but Trey’s and Dave’s gratitude for the next steps are palpable in their voices.
“He’s really got an identity with this state, and he’s got a relationship with the state,” Dave Quinn says. “Even though he’s not a guy who puts himself out there like that, these are our people. That means a lot us — the sense of community — and that hasn’t changed.
“We love our state, and we know where we’re from. But this is more of an opportunity for him to maybe use his natural, God-given skills a little bit more. I think the nature of their offense is gonna fit his skill set a little bit more. And from that standpoint, I think there are a lot of fans who are excited he has this opportunity.”
To the point that the Mustangs may even find themselves a bit of Louisiana chapter to their fan base.
“He might have a few detractors, but the other 99 percent love the kid, and we appreciate that,” Dave Quinn says. “We feel the support, because really the large majority of it is support. One common theme I’ve gotten a lot from people all over the state is, ‘Hey, we’re always gonna be Tigers fans, but our second favorite team, at least while Trey Quinn is playing there, is SMU.’
Trey’s visit to SMU during his second recruiting process was the first time he could ever remember having visited Dallas.
He will join a roster that currently boasts 91 Texas natives compared to 18 players from out of state — none from Louisiana.
The transition has been smooth thus far, though.
And he received a little cosmic reassurance while studying late Tuesday evening, turning the page to find 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the passage he’d long held as a chorus of inspiration, featured in his text book.
“I’m a Louisiana boy, born and raised, and I’d love to do big things for the state,” he says. “Not everyone in the state is a Trey Quinn fan, as I learned. But for the people that are behind me, I’m doing it for them, because I really appreciate the support they’ve given me through thick and thin, and I’ll always be ‘Trey Quinn, from Louisiana.'”
His culinary tastes won’t ever leave any doubt in that regard — no matter how well he may otherwise fit into his new surroundings.
“I’ve been carrying around some Tony Chachere’s in my back pocket everywhere I go,” he jokes.
Jerit Roser can be reached at Jerit@DatBoot.com.