Two came back to win a national championship and earn their degrees. The other is just a junior but undoubtedly one of the best at his position in the nation.
Safety Jaquan Johnson, cornerback Michael Jackson, and linebacker Shaq Quarterman were nominated for prestigious awards on Monday.
Johnson and Jackson, both seniors, are on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to college football’s best defensive back. Quarterman, a junior, landed on the watch list for the Butkus Award, given annually to the best college football linebacker.
Johnson, a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Award and a second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated in 2017, led UM last season with 96 tackles, four interceptions, eight pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
“I always aim high,” Johnson said last week at the Atlantic Coast Conference football kickoff in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I talk about national championship to the team all the time. That’s all I’m thinking about, the national championship — winning the Coastal, winning the ACC, and then going on to the playoffs. ... We’re bringing back the swagger, and that’s winning.”
For fellow defensive back Jackson, this is his first preseason recognition. Jackson, a 6-1, 200-pound hard-hitting corner from Birmingham, Alabama, played in 13 games with 10 starts in 2017. He finished with 43 tackles and tied for the team lead with four interceptions while adding five pass breakups.
“You want the pressure to be on you,” Jackson said in late May, when asked about UM’s 2018 opener against LSU. “But you have to do the same thing that got you to this point: Work hard, don’t pay attention to all the outside people, just listen to the people in our four walls at the university.”
In addition to preparing for fall camp, which begins in early August, Jackson is caring for his infant son Michael Antwan Jackson Jr., who was born in April.
The Hurricanes are one of five schools — along with Georgia, Washington, Boise State, and Florida Atlantic — with multiple players among the 35 watch-list members for the Jim Thorpe Award.
Quarterman, who earned second-team All-ACC accolades last season, has started all 26 games of his UM career, recording 167 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, six sacks, six pass deflections, and two fumble recoveries. He finished 2017 second on the team with 83 tackles in addition to seven tackles for loss, five pass breakups, and four quarterback hurries.
“He stops the run and his physicality is second to none,” outside-linebackers coach Jonathan Patke told the Herald this month. “Once he puts what we call a Shaq shoulder on people, they stop. He is an old-school Mike [middle] backer and likes to thump, and his instincts seeing the run game are very high.”
Johnson and Quarterman have also been named to the watch list for the Bednarik Award, which has been presented to the College Defensive Player of the Year since 1995.