There’s a difference to Luke Quinn’s beat around the practice field – both in the way the 200-pound running back carries himself and how he plows through drills and the defensive line.
It’s a change that started at the tail end of last year but really took off during the months that followed, according to running backs coach Mark Newmyer.
A redshirt freshman last fall, Quinn often got a handful of touches a game, backing up all-conference running back Romero Cotton. As injuries depleted the Loper backfield, the Scottsdale native got the starting nod for the season finale at Emporia (Kan.) State.
While the Lopers scored a season-high 34 points against ESU, Quinn ran the ball nine times for 30 yards and caught a career-high five passes from senior Bronson Marsh. That pushed his season total to 565 all-purpose yards, tied for second most on the team.
“I knew I was going to get a chance to go in whether it was five carries a game or three. I knew I’d get a chance,” Quinn said. “Once I got that feel and got in the zone, things kind of started clicking.”
Despite playing at around 180 pounds last season, one of Quinn’s best assets was his durability. He was the only Loper back to appear in all 11 games.
And in the offseason, he was a weight room warrior for head strength and conditioning coach Joe Kripp. Named the team’s Redshirt Freshman of the Year in December, Quinn was tabbed as UNK’s Male Strength & Conditioning Athlete of the Year for all sports in April.
“I was consistently working out, even on the off days. I’d go in to the downstairs weight room and get myself in shape,” said Quinn, who bulked his 5-foot-9 frame up 20 pounds since he got his first college start. “I’m a big try-hard in there.”
The other element to Quinn’s rapid growth was diet. Last fall, he said he’d eat three meals a day if he were lucky. Over the winter and spring, he’d consume five to six meals daily.
Quinn also took a big leap in the mental aspect of his game.
“This year, he took time in the offseason to become a student of the game and ask the questions that needed to be asked,” Newmyer said. “He really keyed in to what we’re trying to do in our run game and pass game. He has all the physical tools you want in a running back.”
The extra muscle that Quinn carries now is even more pivotal due to the limited experience the Loper running backs have. He’s the only returning back from last year’s squad.
Quinn, along with redshirt freshman Thomas Russell (Millard West H.S.), will get a bulk of the carries this fall. The other options are several true freshmen.
“When you only have two backs with as little experience as they do, durability is huge. I tell them constantly that taking care of your body is a huge part of the game. Luke and Thomas are both great in the weight room, great in our conditioning sessions and that’s what’s going to help them through and through,” said Newmyer.
While the lack of depth presents its challenge, it has had its benefits during fall camp because of the number of practice reps the two have been able to get.
“Our entire practice is like a conditioning session so that when game time comes, those guys should be used to high reps at a fast tempo,” Newmyer elaborated. “They’ll both be fine taking those reps so that when game time comes they’ll be used to it.”
UNK begins the 2016 season Thursday, Sept. 1, at Missouri Western State.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Hanson is a UNK student-journalist