A student first, then a standout
Published: September 9, 2006 / Author: Pete Thamel
When Brady Quinn walks around the verdant campus of Notre Dame, his preferred look is a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes.
In classrooms, Quinn usually sits in the back, although he is unafraid to jump into discussions. In the library, he studies in out-of-the-way places to avoid autograph seekers.
With Notre Dame ranked fourth and Quinn a key to the revival of one of college football’s iconic brands as its star quarterback, it is no surprise that he has emerged as the face of college football.
But how he has handled the attention is unusual. Those who know Quinn outside of football say that he has stood out most for his ability to blend in. Compared with the Hollywood career of canoodling and ballroom dancing that quarterback Matt Leinart had at Southern California, Quinn’s college experience provides a striking contrast.
Quinn returned to Notre Dame for his senior year in part to finish his degrees in finance and political science, which he is on track to receive in December. Quinn’s insistence on two majors at an academically rigorous school like Notre Dame despite his football commitments makes his impending early graduation quite an accomplishment.
“I actually tried to talk him out of it,” Joshua Kaplan, Quinn’s adviser in the political science department, said of the double major. “But from early on, it was clear it was important for him to do it. It’s clear to me he came to Notre Dame because he wanted the real experience, and that includes the education.”
Quinn’s education at Notre Dame has transcended his tutelage under the second-year coach Charlie Weis, who transformed Quinn from a struggling sophomore to a Heisman Trophy favorite. Quinn leads the Irish against No. 19 Penn State today.
But what has impressed people around Notre Dame is what Quinn has done off the field, because he has made it a point to relish the college experience.
While holding a grade-point average of a little less than 3.0, Quinn has done things like help his team win the Bookstore Basketball Tournament last year and have a glass of water poured on his head in a home film that was shown at an athletic banquet. He says he hopes to go to law school after his football career is over, or perhaps during it. For now, he is content being a college kid.
“I’m a slappy, as Coach would say,” Quinn said, borrowing a phrase from Weis’s New Jersey vernacular. “I’m just a college student trying to make it through Notre Dame, playing football. It’s weird that people see that as a celebrity. To me, it’s mind-boggling.”
The real confusion might have come to those on the other end of the telephone when Quinn worked at Notre Dame’s office of news and information last year, one of the part-time jobs he had the past two years.
In that role, he embarked on such thankless projects as trying to persuade professors to update their photographs on the university’s Web site, or calling 200 colleges to get the exact name and title of their college presidents.
His greeting, “Hi, this is Brady Quinn from the University of Notre Dame,” was often greeted with skepticism. A former associate vice president in that office, Matthew V. Storin, would laugh when calls came back from befuddled officials saying, “I got a call from someone who said he was Brady Quinn.”
Storin, the former editor of The Boston Globe, said what struck him most about Quinn was how even-keeled he stayed as his public profile rose.
“He went from promising football player to the hero of campus, yet his demeanor never changed,” said Storin, who now teaches journalism at Notre Dame. “He’s a really nice kid, and he really tries to be a college kid.”
Being a college kid at Notre Dame means spending plenty of time in class, where Quinn took courses like security analysis, advanced corporate finance, management of financial institutions, politics of tropical Africa and politics of South Africa last semester. Quinn said because of the way that his double major was structured, he could not give himself a break toward the end of his career, especially not if he wanted to graduate a semester early.
“No ballroom dancing,” Quinn said with a smile.
Leinart was able to take ballroom dancing as his only class last year because he had completed all his credits toward his degree in sociology except that one. Quinn will settle for analyzing spreadsheets and learning the intricacies of Ghana’s politics.
He has gained the respect of his professors with his attendance, participation and relentlessly positive attitude. Tim Loughran, a professor of finance, said that it was common for Quinn to spend 10 minutes after class furthering a discussion topic in his security analysis class. Loughran recalled being impressed by Quinn’s class project, an evaluation of Southwest Airlines.
“He’s a fine student,” Loughran said. “He never asked for any special favors or wanted any special treatment. And he certainly didn’t bring any attention to himself.”
Edward Hums, an instructor of accountancy, had Quinn, then a sophomore, in a class and said he enjoyed Quinn’s demeanor.
“Something that he always brought to class was a smile and an upbeat attitude,” Hums said. “When you’re teaching financial accounting, the material is often less than exciting. To see a student who somewhat enjoys himself is a plus.”
And while Quinn enjoys a life immersed in football and classes, he is by no means immune to his celebrity. He was recognized by Notre Dame fans while on spring break in the Cayman Islands and even had breakfast with the actor Vince Vaughn, who played a bit role in the Notre Dame football movie “Rudy,” at an International House of Pancakes in South Bend, Ind., last year.
But as footballs to be autographed lined up outside his dorm in Dillon Hall last year, Quinn became increasingly uncomfortable. He said people were knocking on his door with gold helmets in hand as he tried to study for finals. And he had to make a mad dash for his car on the morning of the spring game because strangers with piles of memorabilia were lurking around his dorm.
“It became somewhat disappointing that people wouldn’t let you be a regular student,” Quinn said.
That is one reason why he has relished his classroom time. When Quinn first met with Kaplan, his adviser, Kaplan told him that it was his obligation to treat him like any other student.
“When I said that,” Kaplan recalled, “Brady got a big smile on his face.”
It is a smile that stood out only because of one of Quinn’s defining traits, his insistence on blending in.