They’re still teenagers, just a few months away from their high school proms and yearbooks, and in November, finally able to vote in a presidential election.
But Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud – the only three UM true freshmen to ever start together at linebacker – seem decisively different on the football field; almost old, judging by their demeanor and command of the defense.
“We’re not freshmen,’’ insisted weak-side starter Pinckney on Tuesday, explaining that he “had a Miami jersey’’ when he “was out of the womb, basically…We’ve been talking about this since ninth grade.’’
“A real blessing,’’ added middle man Shaquille Quarterman. “It was always the plan. Before we got here, me, Mike and Zach would always talk about it to each other – it would be great for us to be on the field at the same time. ‘Let’s not just be regular freshmen, let’s go in and make a splash, make a big bang,’ so one day we could be doing what we’re doing right now.’’
It’s early, but with two wins and 10 regular-season games to go, these 18-year-old run-stoppers have helped lead the Hurricanes to a No. 1 national ranking in rushing defense, allowing an astounding average of 34.5 ground yards in the first two games against FAMU and FAU.
The Canes also lead the nation in tackles for loss, with 28.
“You can talk about those linebackers all day, because how often do you have three true freshmen show up and start playing good ball for you like that?’’ UM coach Mark Richt said after UM’s 38-10 victory Saturday. “Again, props to the last staff for recruiting them and getting them here in January. That was huge.”
By Tuesday, after the blush of victory was long past, Richt tempered his enthusiasm.
“There’s a term that I’ve heard said,’’ Richt noted, “that ‘they don’t know that they don’t know.’ Sometimes you just don’t know what’s coming down the pike…’’
For 25th-ranked Miami (2-0), preparing for its first road game at Appalachian State (1-1) at noon Saturday (ESPN) in Boone, N.C., that might be a good thing.
Appalachian State, which won three consecutive national titles from 2005 through ’07 when it belonged to the lower-division Football Championship Subdivision, went 11-2 last season in the Sun Belt Conference. The Mountaineers are averaging 207 rushing yards a game.
“They are a great team,’’ said the 6-1, 240-pound Quarterman, a former U.S. Army All-American and consensus four-star prospect out of Orange Park Oakleaf High outside Jacksonville. “But we’re the Miami Hurricanes. We plan to go in there and do what we’re supposed to do, no matter what team we’re facing.’’
“I think Tennessee came out underestimating Appalachian State,’’ the 6-1, 220-pound Pinckney said of the Volunteers, ranked ninth when they barely escaped ASU with an overtime victory at Knoxville on Sept. 1. “Their run game is definitely phenomenal. But I feel like we’re better than Tennessee – just me, personally.’’
Pinckney was born in the Carol City area of Miami, and moved to Jacksonville when he was a young child. McCloud, 6-2 and 230 pounds, was rated the 11th best outside linebacker nationwide by ESPN when he came out of Lantana Santaluces High.
“Being a Hurricane means you’ve got to work harder than everybody else, you’ve got to be tougher than everybody else and you have to hold up the standard that the guys before us have set,’’ McCloud said, adding that his father Thomas is “a huge Hurricanes fan.’’
“I know when I played little league [football],’’ he said, “and they didn’t put me on the Hurricanes, I was mad.’’
Together, the three freshmen – Richt started them against FAMU but went with a nickel defense minus McCloud against FAU – have accounted for 22.5 tackles (10 for Pinckney, 8.5 for Quarterman and four for McCloud) and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Richt said he’s waiting to see how they react to adversity for the first time.
“Right now they think everything is good,’’ Richt said. “They are going to get hit in the mouth… and they’ll also, as most freshmen do, hit a wall somewhere along the way in the season. Class, practice, games, travel, emotion – all these things going on...Hopefully we can keep that from happening, but it’s pretty typical.’’
The three promise to make no excuses.
“We’ve handled it like we’re supposed to,’’ Pinckney said. “We’ve dominated. That’s a blessing.”