Miami Hurricanes linebacker Shaq Quarterman is a believer.
That’s a big part of the reason he came back for his senior year.
He wanted to play for his former defensive coordinator and new head coach Manny Diaz, he loves his teammates and he believes together they have a chance to win the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference — despite the Hurricanes finishing 7-6 and 4-4 in the Coastal last season after winning their division in 2017 and ultimately being blasted by now national champion Clemson in the ACC title game.
“I’m sure,’’ Quarterman said Thursday at the ACC Football Kickoff, when asked if the Canes can win the Coastal. “If I look at my players, my teammates, we understand that last year could have been a whole lot different...”
Quarterman, who said he’s now 6-2 and 238 pounds with 11 percent body fat, will be flanked by standout fellow seniors Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud. Last season an All-ACC first-team star, Quarterman started all 13 games and ranked second for the Canes with 82 tackles. He had 14 tackles for loss, six sacks, an interception, two pass breakups, six quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
“First and foremost, it’s awesome for us to be able to start together,’’ Quarterman said. “It rarely happens, especially for us to grow as close as we have from day one, being thrown in that fire with the trust of my coach over there. It’s just been really great.
“Throughout every year we’ve continued to grow closer as brothers. To be able to finish off my senior year with them, it’s a testament to our brotherhood. I wouldn’t want to do it without them.”
When asked if he had a message for fans, Quarterman said he did.
“I would tell them to show up and show out. We need them. I need all the fans. They really drive us, whether they know it or not. Every disappointment they feel, we feel it too. And I just want them to understand that.
“[There] was a time where it seemed like they didn’t think we wanted to win and that hurt me to my core. It’s for the fans, you know. They pay so much money, season ticket holders and stuff like that. It’s for the fans. We work hard to win. But it’s for the city.
“We’re not as far off as people would like to believe. But, that’s fine... We just put our heads down and I believe we put in the work this off-season. We have a new strength staff who has blessed us tremendously. I’ve seen guys turn into real monsters in just a short period of time. I’m almost jealous that I won’t have another year. Then you have Diaz, who’s done everything in his power to put the right coaches in position for us to excel even more. With the defense we have coming off of last year, I’m just excited.”
Quarterman also conceded that he felt like he would be chosen higher in the NFL Draft if he returned in 2019.
“Talking with Coach Diaz,’’ he said, “even Coach [Mark] Richt at that time, it came down to what I honestly felt I was worth. A lot of guys come out their junior year. It’s becoming more of a fashion to do that. But I don’t think they understand the long-term results of what that does.
“A lot of guys, two out of three juniors that come out, don’t get drafted. The one that does, who’s to say he goes in the first round? So I didn’t see the reason in leaving a year early, and leaving so much on the table.
“The fact that I get to graduate this year, the fact that I get to do it with my guys that I came in with — I have my once defensive coordinator [as] my head coach— it’s almost like the stars have aligned for me. I think that’s a tremendous blessing.”
Quarterman, speaking from the Westin Charlotte, was accompanied by former Buffalo graduate transfer receiver K.J. Osborn, a 6-2, 205-pound Ypsilante, Michigan native who had 53 catches for 892 yards and seven touchdown in 2018.
Osborn said he was thrilled to be chosen to represent the Canes at the ACC Kickoff.
“I mean, I love Miami,’’ Osborn said. “When people ask me how is Miami, I tell them Miami is everything you think it is, everything that you think it is. It’s amazing. ...That’s like a dream come true to run out of the smoke in front of all those people...”
He said he has no personal expectations other than to win.
“They expect us to win,’’ he said.