Southern has played four football games this season, and Willie Quinn has made at least one big play in each.
So one of Alcorn State’s priorities in Saturday’s game is to avoid becoming the fifth Jaguars opponent burned by Quinn, who can do just that by catching passes, taking handoffs or returning kickoffs or punts.
“Willie is a very talented young man who’s fast and has good hands,” Braves coach Jay Hopson said. “All of the stats and notoriety that he has are well deserved. He’s a really, really good football player.”
Quinn touched the ball on offense for the first time this season on Southern’s 11th snap against Louisiana-Lafayette in the opener. He got open on a slant over the middle, snared freshman Austin Howard’s first career pass and headed up field for a 56-yard gain. He finished the game with eight receptions for 105 yards.
The next week, Central Methodist knocked the opening kickoff out of bounds. Teams usually take the ball at the 35-yard line in such situations, but the Jaguars opted instead for another kick, figuring Quinn would make a big play. He did, returning the ball 56 yards to the Eagles 31, setting up a touchdown that triggered a 56-14 rout.
A week later, Southern trailed Northwestern State 17-0 and was foundering on offense before Quinn ran a similar route to the one for his big gainer at UL-Lafayette, caught another Howard pass and sped 79 yards for a touchdown.
Last week, Prairie View had kicked a field goal to cut Southern’s lead to 17-10 late in the second quarter and kicked off, sending the ball hooking toward the right sideline to try to hem in Quinn. The return was designed to go left.
Quinn started left but knew the blocking wouldn’t hold up for the amount of time it would take him to get over there.
“I had my plan set in my head already,” Quinn said. “I knew I wasn’t going to make it all way left. So I took three steps to the left, then cut back to the right sideline.”
With the Panthers pursuit following Quinn’s initial move, he found running room up the right sideline.
“I saw one guy had an angle on me, so I cut back,” Quinn said.
His move back across the field got him into open space and hooked him up with a wall of blockers. He sprinted to the end zone from there.
Special teams coach Marty Biagi described Quinn’s instinctive journey by joking, “I like to call it good coaching.”
Plays like that, of course, aren’t coached.
“It was one of those, ‘What is he doing? … Great job,’ ” Biagi said. “Willie is one of those guys, when he gets the ball in his hands you’re hoping for a big play.
“He’s going to stay within the scheme until he just believes it’s in his best interest and the team’s best interest to step out of the scheme for a split second, but in general it was just one of those instinct plays where he found something and rolled the dice and took it. That’s what you want in playmakers.”
Through four games, Quinn has four explosive plays covering 56, 56, 79 and 98 yards.
“Willie can go the distance any time he touches the ball,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said.
Teams are paying even closer attention to Quinn, not only because of the plays he has made but also because of the absence of other key playmakers. Randall Menard, the primary complement to Quinn among the wide receivers, is out for the season after undergoing toe surgery.
Menard’s replacement, Mike Jones, has an ankle injury and likely will miss his second consecutive game Saturday. Two of the Jaguars’ top running backs — Malcolm Crockett and Tyre Bracken — are also expected to miss this game.
“He’s not going to make every play,” Biagi said, “but at the end of the game he’s a Michael Jordan-type guy who wants the ball in his hand and wants that pressure.”
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