CHAPEL HILL — If you want to know how good North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn is, ask his coach or teammates. Better yet, ask an opposing coach or a quarterback he has chased down, but whatever you do, don't ask Quinn.
The humble sophomore has an unusual combination of size and speed, and unique perspective on life, but he has no ego.
Quinn, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound end from Ladson, S.C., could brag about the career-best 10 tackles against Georgia Tech, or the sack and forced fumble against The Citadel, or the holding penalty he drew in the end zone for the winning safety against Connecticut, or any of the game-changing plays against East Carolina that inspired an unofficial record for compliments from an in-state rival. But he doesn't.
Quinn won't boast, but everyone else will.
"I think he is a pro right now," ECU coach Skip Holtz said after UNC's 31-17 win on Sept. 19.
Asked ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who spent the better part of the game sharing the backfield with Quinn: "He's only a sophomore?"
UNC coach Butch Davis simply calls Quinn a "beast," and safety Deunta Williams has nicknamed him "Hercules."
"He's amazing," Williams said. "The guy's 270, he runs a 4.5 and he's chiseled up like a Greek god."
All the attention, especially from the opposing team, leaves Quinn appreciative but speechless.
"I don't know what to say," Quinn said. "I'm not trying to brag on me, but apparently they thought I was pretty good."
Pretty good? That qualifies as chest-thumping for Quinn, who's not in the business of self-promotion because of what he calls a "second chance at life."
As a senior in high school, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor, which is still in Quinn's skull, is benign. He had surgery in October 2007 to reduce the size and remove excess fluid around it, which was causing swelling of his brain.
Two months after the surgery, Quinn resumed his athletic career on his high school wrestling team, where he was a two-time state champion. The next fall, he returned to the football field with an appreciation for life's most basic activities.
"I just look at like a second chance at life," Quinn said.
Quinn has made the most of his second chance. He earned a starting job in the second game of his freshman season and finished with 34 tackles and two sacks. He wanted more. He worked this summer to take a step forward.
That work was evident on UNC's testing day in the spring. His 40-yard dash time, 4.51 seconds, eclipsed the position-record held by Julius Peppers, the Carolina Panthers' All-Pro defensive end. In the weight room, he owns the school record for the power clean at 366 pounds and can bench-press 380 pounds. For good measure, he has a 32-inch vertical leap.
Davis is just as impressed with Quinn's personality and work ethic as with his athletic gifts.
"He's truly a humble kid," Davis said. "He was worked extremely hard for everything he has ever gotten."
By any standard, the first four games have been remarkable. Quinn said he's smarter, more experienced in his second season.
"I'm not trying to learn and play at the same time," Quinn said.
Quinn added he felt faster this season, which is a scary thought, Williams said.
"He sacked Pinkney so fast," Williams said, "I thought somebody jumped offsides. I thought the play was whistled dead."
Holtz said Quinn was faster than he looked on film.
"We didn't do a very good job of evaluating his speed," Holtz said after he proclaimed Quinn ready for the NFL at age 19.
The NFL's on Quinn's radar, but he's not consumed by the pursuit. Typical of his personality, he's not even sure he wants to be a part of the bright lights that come with professional football.
"I think about the NFL, but then sometimes I want to live a normal life," Quinn said. "I'm an old country boy, I don't need much to make me happy. Millions sounds nice, but I don't need the whole world to make me happy."
Who needs the world when you've been given a second chance at life?