If one had to pick a midseason Most Valuable Player for North Carolina, a very strong candidate would be sophomore defensive end Robert Quinn, who currently is leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with 9.5 tackles for loss and sits second in the league with six sacks.
In addition, he is currently fourth on the UNC roster and tied for 36th in the ACC with 27 tackles (17 solo, 10 assisted).
Although he is one of the key performers on one of the best defenses in the league, Quinn is a remarkably humble young man, and says he's got plenty of room to improve in a lot of different areas.
"I guess (I can improve) really everywhere," said Quinn. "I think closing on the quarterback more---instead of taking 10 steps to get to the quarterback probably get like eight and a half---just get there that much quicker and to hopefully try to take the pressure off the secondary so they won't have to cover as long."
Quinn has been playing his heart out for the Tar Heels all season and has been making plays all over the field, but after the game this past Saturday he couldn't help but express some frustration at the offense's complete lack of productivity in the 16-3 setback to Virginia.
"It's very frustrating when they're going three-and-outs and are back on the field or they're turning the ball over and we're back on the field," Quinn said of the UNC offense. "I mean, it's a team game, and I'm not trying to play the 'Blame Game,' but the offense has got to help us some."
Quinn was asked again about those comments this week, and while he was quick to point out that he's staying positive and encouraging his offensive teammates, he and the defensive players are prepared to take on more responsibility to help the team get back on track.
"It's frustrating, but as a defense if we see our offense isn't doing it, we put it on our shoulders," he said. "If they (opposing offense) don't score they can't win, so if we shut a team out then the offense doesn't have to put up much for us."
"Defensively, we take it as 'our' team," he added. "Like I said earlier, if they (the opposing offense) can't score they can't win. That's how I look at it. So let's try to shut them out and try to win games 3-0, 7-3. As long as we get the 'W,' a win is a win. In games we're trying to go out there and shut every offense out. If we see our offense struggling we're going to try to keep them on the positive side, give them some encouragement. Hopefully that will help them out to score a couple of points for us."
Although the Tar Heels (3-2, 0-2 ACC) are stepping out of conference this week for a home matchup with Georgia Southern, Quinn knows that the players can't take anything for granted against this opponent and they have to do what's necessary in terms of fundamentals and execution if they are to get back in the win column.
"We're just going out there and trying to get back to fundamentals, and really stay positive and take it to the game on Saturday," he said. "We've lost two games back to back, but don't let it kill us. We need a high-motor and try to smack them (Georgia Southern) in the mouth and get a win."
"Every game is a big game, no matter if it's ACC or non-conference," he added. "We should take every game as the same, just try to go out there, play as hard as we can and get the win."
One thing that can greatly help the Tar Heels this week is getting some turnovers and sacks against the Eagles.
Considering that Georgia Southern has allowed a whopping 21 sacks so far this fall and their starting quarterback has tossed six interceptions, there is reason to believe the turnover margin could start evening back out in UNC's direction along with Quinn possibly adding to his sacks and tackles for loss totals.
"It's a little frustrating because I remember last year we had I don't know many 'picks' and so many fumbles," Quinn said. "We would like some of those (this year), but hey, it's the name of the game. If you don't get them then you don't, and if you do you do. You've just got to go out there and play hard and hopefully they'll come to you."
Quinn has emerged over the last season and a half as one of North Carolina's---and the ACC's---top defenders thanks in large part to his incredible physical gifts.
The son of two former track athletes who met at Charleston Southern University, Quinn was simply born to be an athlete.
"My dad was a 110 (meter) hurdles runner and I want to say 200 (meter) relay, and my mom, I know she long-jumped," Quinn said. "I don't remember exactly what she ran, but my dad went to the Olympic Trials. I guess that's a little something. They went to Charleston Southern."
"My dad's pretty big, but the height and stuff, my mom has got some tall people on the side of her family, so I guess it just all came together," he added.
An athletic specimen that has also been referred to as a 'freak,' Quinn was a two-time state wrestling champion in South Carolina and his 40-yard dash times have bested those of even former UNC All-American and current NFL Pro Bowler Julius Peppers.
"I was talking with Kyle Jolly---we were just talking in the locker room---and then Christian Wilson brought up my parents and my mom and dad ran track in college. (He said), 'That's where you get the speed from,'" Quinn said. "And then he (Wilson) said I was born running a 4.7. We were just having some fun talking about it in the locker room."
"I think the wrestling helps out with the leverage, like knowing how far I can lean against an O-tackle without getting slammed on the ground," he added. "So I guess wrestling and born track speed from my parents, it's showing out there on the field."
Quinn joked that some of the UNC players have tried to challenge him in friendly wrestling engagements, although nobody has stepped up for a full-fledged match.
"I wrestled with Tavares Brown a couple of times, and Todd Harrelson tried me one day---I don't know what made him try---and then me and 'Coop, Jonathan Cooper, locked up a couple of times, but it's no full match. It's been a couple of times, going in there having fun."
Quinn has come remarkably far as a football player since having his career nearly end after he suffered a benign brain tumor during his senior year of high school.
However, that particular setback is now far in the rear-view mirror, as Quinn is taking his athleticism and work ethic to another level.
"The offseason, ever since high school, I've just always worked hard to try to be that much of a better player," he said. "I'm not in there (in the weight room) just bench-pressing every day and getting all stiff. We do a lot of stretching, and it all balances out. We always worked on speed, and just putting those two together is really showing out on the field."
"My dad always said to be one of the kind that's going out there trying to work hard, no matter what it is, trying to be the best player that I can, and I think it's showing out there," Quinn added. "And I'm going to continue like that, to work hard and be the best that I can be."