First, an apology to Andrew Quarless.
The NFL’s official biography for the Penn State tight end spent plenty of verbiage rehashing Quarless’ “off-field issues.”
There was underage drinking. And driving under the influence. And marijuana found in his apartment. All of it almost cost Quarless his scholarship.
In this breaking-news society, Ted Thompson’s decision to use a fifth-round pick on Quarless made for an easy story line. And the NFL helped make it easy, with about a full page of his six-page biography including specifics from his indiscretions. After years of talk about “Packer People,” what on earth were the Packers thinking by drafting this guy?
During a conference call shortly after the pick was made and at the Packers’ rookie orientation camp a week later, reporter after reporter asked Quarless again and again about all of those troubles.
Nobody, apparently, bothered to talk to longtime Penn State tight ends coach Bill Kenney. So, when Kenney returned my phone call while on a recruiting trip, his eagerness to tell the “rest of the story,” as the late Paul Harvey might have said, was evident with his opening phrase.
“I’d walk on hot coals for Andrew.”
Those first impressions are so hard to look beyond, I began explaining, when Kenney interjected.
“Bill, did you go to college? Did you drink in college?”
Here’s the story that nobody else on the Packers beat or none of the TV-hair draft gurus will bother to tell you.
Quarless was starting at Penn State before his 18th birthday. As he told reporters at the Packers’ rookie camp, he was a victim of his own immaturity and, in his words, “big-headedness.” In retrospect, Kenney said he wishes he could have redshirted Quarless, but he was just too talented, as evidenced by his 21 catches for 288 yards with eight starts.
During the offseason following his freshman season, Quarless was arrested for underage drinking. In March 2008, the offseason following his sophomore football season, Quarless had been drinking and was driving a teammate home. Quarless was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence. According to Kenney, Quarless’ blood-alcohol content was 0.04 — or half the legal limit. But underage drinking is underage drinking in the eyes of the law.
With Paterno’s program under fire at the time, Quarless was suspended for what Kenney called a “significant period.” Early in the 2008 season, with Quarless embarking on his junior season, he was suspended for a game after marijuana was found in the apartment he shared with a few teammates. The marijuana did not belong to Quarless, though, and he said he tested negative the next day.
Kenney said the incidents hurt Quarless “deeply” because of how it impacted the team and how it put himself and his family in a bad light. It’s not that Quarless needed to turn his life around. He just needed to be smarter.
“He and I, we had a long conversation and he made a conscious effort to give up alcohol, and he’s followed through on that,” Kenney said. “It’s not because he’s had any kind of a drinking issue. He just felt that alcohol was leading him down a path that he didn’t want to go on because of the two scrapes that he had. But he’s a great kid. In his last two years at Penn State, he has not touched a drop of alcohol. He’s a four-year player and he’s one of the best tight ends I’ve ever had at Penn State. I’ve been here for 23 years. Just an outstanding young man in every way, shape and form.
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“I’ve got two sons and if they grow up like him, I’ll be a happy man.”
Quarless caught just 11 passes with just one start as a junior, in part because of the suspensions and in part because Penn State focused the offense on wide receivers Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Williams (Detroit) and Butler (Seattle) were third-round picks while Norwood caught on with Philadelphia.
With those three in the NFL and Quarless playing for his football life as a senior, the 6-foot-4 tight end enjoyed a breakout season. Beating out Mickey Shuler Jr., who wound up going in the seventh round to MInnesota, Quarless’ 41 receptions set a school record for tight ends, and his 87 career receptions broke the school record for tight ends previously held by Penn State icon Ted Kwalick.
“Last year, we relied upon Andrew to really be a real bellcow for our offense and he just did a phenomenal job,” Kenney said.
As one of the rare tight ends in this era of college football who can both block and catch, Quarless’ big senior year should have had him rising up draft boards. Instead, those negatives lingered, and the media’s continued harping on old news during the draft process bothered Kenney.
“In my mind, people had not done their homework,” he said. “You can say what you will, but the Green Bay Packers did their homework. The Green Bay Packers did an outstanding job of investigating Andrew and really vetting him and getting a very good feel for who he was and where his personality and character was. I don’t think as far as the media and the Kipers and the McShays and all those kind of people, they have no idea what he was about.
“They were making a judgment about a young man who was 17, 18 years old as opposed to where he is today. That’s the nature of college. The nature of college is to learn from your experience and improve yourself, not only academically but socially and from a maturation standpoint. I’m very, very proud of what Andrew did here at Penn State and the level of growth that he exhibited over the course of his career was tremendous. To repeat old history is, in my estimation, it does a disservice to the growth that a young man goes through.”
On the field, Packers director of college scouting John Dorsey called Quarless “very gifted,” an assessment to which Kenney would agree. He’s tall (6-foot-4 3/8) and athletic (4.57 40), giving the team a potentially deadly pass-catching duo with Jermichael Finley. And coming from an old-school Big Ten offense, Quarless isn’t afraid to get his shirt dirty in the run game.
“What I’m most proud about as far as a player goes is he takes to the physical characteristics of tight end as well as the finesse part of the position,” Kenney said. “He’s not unlike any young man — he loves to go out and catch the ball. If you threw him the ball 40 times, he’d be happy. But he also gets very, very excited about taking on a defensive end and taking on a Sam linebacker and really being a physical, physical player. He demonstrated that over the course of his career in the Big Ten Conference. I’ve had Kyle Brady and Troy Drayton and Tony Stewart and John Gilmore, and he’s really at the top of the heap.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.