In 2007, when he was a high school senior, Robert Quinn was given a second chance at football after being diagnosed with a benign brain tumor.
Thursday night, after sitting out his junior season because he broke NCAA rules, North Carolina's star defensive end was given a third chance to play the game he loves - by the St. Louis Rams.
Quinn, the 14th overall pick, became the 19th Tar Heel to become a first-round selection. As many as 11 more of his former teammates could be chosen in the three-day, seven-round draft - including defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little, who also were kicked off the UNC team for accepting improper agent benefits. (Quinn and Little were banned from playing college football.)
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was the first ACC player selected, going a surprising 12th overall to the Minnesota Vikings. With the 22nd pick, the Indianapolis Colts selected Boston College offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo, the third ACC athlete chosen.
N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving also is expected to be a second- or third-day selection.
"Not being able to help my teammates was heartbreaking [last season]," Quinn said after he was drafted, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But I've put that behind me, and now I'm happy to be a St. Louis Ram."
The Rams, 7-9 last season, said they weren't worried about the medical condition that prematurely ended Quinn's high school career. The tumor was discovered during his senior season at Fort Dorchester (S.C.) High.
After performing surgery to drain swelling in Quinn's head, doctors did not expect Quinn to play football again, only to watch him recover and star for two seasons in Chapel Hill. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound athlete, who turns 21 next month, has said he has had healthy checkups every six months.
"Our doctors spent a lot of time doing research, talking to people in Chapel Hill," Rams general manager Billy Devaney said at a news conference. "... He's played with it, and our doctors - as we called around the league - the majority of teams were comfortable with it also."
The Rams also said they were comfortable with Quinn's explanation about the mistakes that had him working out in a small weight room at UNC's indoor track facility during this past football season rather than with his team.
Quinn, from Ladson, S.C., said last month that "just surrounding myself with people I don't usually surround myself with" is what led to his accepting two black diamond watches, matching earrings and travel accommodations to Miami, benefits valued at $5,642. The NCAA also determined he lied to investigators, leading to his expulsion.
"He did make a mistake," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said at the news conference. "All of the research, everyone you talk to, it was out of character for him. We talked [to him] about that, and I felt very comfortable with the response. ... He's paid for it and is ready to move on."
Although Quinn became the eighth Tar Heel to be taken in the draft's top 15, some analysts have said he may have contended for a top-three spot had he played in 2010.
As a sophomore in 2009, he earned first-team All-ACC honors and finished second in the ACC defensive player of the year vote.
Now, Quinn will have a chance to showcase his quick first step in St. Louis, where starting defensive ends Chris Long and James Hall combined for 19 sacks last season.
Spagnuolo said that getting Quinn ready for the NFL "is going to take a little while."
"We're fortunate that we do have some veteran defensive ends that can help him out," he said. "When he's ready to go, we'll toss him in there."
Quinn isn't worried about being game-ready, according to the Post-Dispatch.
"I don't think I'm too far off; football's football," he said. "The game hasn't changed. Like everybody else, I've just got to work on the basic fundamentals and get better."
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