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For the Rams’ Dante Fowler, a Midseason Trade, and a Career Rebirth

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  • For the Rams’ Dante Fowler, a Midseason Trade, and a Career Rebirth

    January 28, 2019

    Dan and Stacey Quinn were in Oahu, following through on their plan to get away from football for a few weeks before the Falcons head coach needed to return to Atlanta and prep for the 2019 NFL draft. Yet shutting the sport out completely proved impossible two Sundays ago, with the Saints hosting the Rams in the NFC Championship Game at 10 a.m. local time in Hawaii. There were the Quinns at their vacation home, yelling at the television as Drew Brees and the Saints took the ball in overtime. “C’mon Dante! C’mon Dante!” Stacey hollered. And from more than 4,000 miles away, Dante answered.

    The Rams’ outside linebacker, Dante Fowler Jr., met the Quinns during his freshman year at Florida, when Dan was Gators defensive coordinator and Fowler was a five-star defensive line prospect out of St. Petersburg. Six years later Fowler found himself in the NFC title game, spinning off of Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and colliding with Brees as he released a pass. The ball whimpered, wobbled and fell into the waiting arms of Rams safety John Johnson III. Five plays later Greg Zuerlein would hit the game-winning 57-yard field goal.

    In between, Fowler’s been the No. 3 pick in the draft, questioned his own love of the game, fought depression, been arrested and later, traded. It all started with an injury. Those who have suffered it say can it affect the mind as much as or more than the knee itself. Before he’d ever taken a snap, Fowler tore his ACL on the first day of rookie minicamp for the Jaguars in 2015. He would miss the entire season, setting the course for his downfall in Jacksonville and rebirth in Los Angeles. Fowler had never before waited on success, never suffered so drastic a setback. And few knew that better than Quinn.

    “Some guys have so much success in high school and college,” Dan Quinn says. “Then they go to the NFL and you don’t get the respect; it has to be earned. So when he got injured he didn’t have that chance to earn the respect on the field, and it was really humbling. It takes a lot of soul-searching to say I’m gonna battle through this and come out the other side.”

    For three years and some change, it didn’t look as if Fowler would ever climb out of that rut. He played in 16 games for Jacksonville in 2016, starting one, and collected four sacks. A rookie third-round pick, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, supplanted Fowler on the depth chart that year, and the coach who drafted Fowler, Gus Bradley was fired after Week 15.

    “After I tore my ACL I feel like they gave up on me going into my next training camp,” Fowler says. “These three years I was trying to prove to them I was a guy they could trust, and I was trying to be the guy they drafted me to be. But I never got a chance to start a game. When it’s all said and done, I feel like they gave up on me.

    “Yannick came and did what he was supposed to do, and that’s when I fell back into the shadows. I used to always go and ask why I was sitting on the bench. I can admit, I was depressed. I’ve never been in a bad place like that before, and that was one of the darkest times of my life. It made me question my love of football. I dreaded going to work, knowing how people feel about you and think about you. I had a dark cloud following me.”

    Fowler can speak freely now as a member of the Rams, who, amid an 8-0 start, sent third- and fifth-round picks to the Jaguars in late October for a 24-year-old who had up to that point started just one game as a pro. Fowler also had recently earned a suspension from Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone for engaging in multiple fights in practice. To Rams players who had grown accustomed to general manager Les Snead’s splashy roster moves working out, this one still seemed odd.

    “When we got Dante, I was like, Whoa, where did this come from?” says L.A. guard Rodger Saffold. “But he came in and bought in. All these guys bought in to [Rams head coach Sean] McVay and what we have here. We have a culture that can be hard to mesh with. There’s so much accountability. You have to be able to say, I made a mistake. For guys to come in and buy into that honestly was shocking.”

    If Rams players had any lingering doubts, they were erased in the NFC Championship Game, when Fowler turned in his best performance of the season and made the critical hit on Brees. Exhausted and glossy-eyed as he sat at his locker after the game, Fowler had a lot to be thankful for. He rattled off the names of teammates who’d helped him learn the playbook in November: Aaron Donald, Samson Ebukam, Matt Longacre and Ogbonnia ‘Obo’ Okoronkwo.

    Says Fowler: “That’s when I knew this team was special, because Obo’s a rookie. He don’t even play, and he’s teaching me the defense. I can’t thank those guys enough. In walkthroughs, practice, they’d take me through the plays, take me through the steps. They took me under their wing and just showed me the way. I just told them thank you all the time. They didn’t have to do that.

    “That’s when I could tell everyone was for one goal. I was traded for, and there wasn’t an elephant in the room or anything. I’m grateful to work with a group of guys like that. We have a lot of star power, guys with accolades, rings, Hall of Fame credentials, but these guys are humble and they put all that behind them. They keep the main thing the main thing.”

    Fowler says Jacksonville’s locker room had a hard time with that concept. He believes that after the Jaguars reached the AFC Championship Game in 2017, players thought too much of themselves. “It took me coming here to realize that we weren’t humble about it,” Fowler says. “Other teams were hungrier than us.”

    Personally, there wasn’t much Fowler could say or do even if he had diagnosed the problem in Jacksonville at the time; he was the highest-paid backup on the team, earning $23.49 million over four years as a former third overall pick. Also, he’d branded himself an off-field risk during his third offseason. Depressed but hopeful going into the 2017 season, Fowler was back in his hometown of St. Petersburg when, according to a police spokesperson, he was driving through an apartment complex and heard a man comment on his driving. Fowler got out of the car, an argument ensued, and Fowler punched the man, allegedly stomped on his glasses after they fell from his face, and threw the man’s grocery bag full of liquor in a nearby lake. He was arrested without incident.

    “I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Fowler says. “I was working out, had my baby boy, everything was going good, and I hit a bump in the road. When I was getting booked I was thinking about my kids and all the kids that look up to me. I just thought, who are you right now? When I went to training camp and saw all the kids, it made me real emotional. I realized I wasn’t just doing it for myself; I’m doing it for all the people who look up to me. That’s when I grew up.”

    Fowler started seeing a therapist after the arrest, and though his status with the Jaguars was diminished, he maintained a love of the game and an eagerness for his next opportunity. Along the way, Quinn was a text or a phone call away, providing guidance when necessary. Years ago he’d been taken with Fowler’s competitiveness as a prep star, and later, as a freshman at Florida.

    “You saw all this raw talent,” Quinn says, “And there was zero fear. Sometimes guys go from high school to college and there’s that feeling-out period, but there was no doubt with him that he was ready to play. That was really cool to see.

    “I left right [Florida] after his first year, so I just wanted him to know that even though I was leaving he could ask me questions about the process. I tried to mentor from far away. I wanted him to know he had a relationship with me forever.”

    Fowler played in 13 games as a Gators freshman, then started 24 over the next two seasons before entering the draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Quinn took a job as Seahawks defensive coordinator in 2013, then as Falcons head coach in 2015. In 2016 Atlanta reached the Super Bowl, building a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots before eventually losing 34-28 in overtime.

    In a team meeting during that Super Bowl week, Quinn asked his players to raise a hand if someone in their lives had reached out to offer advice about how to approach that week. Ninety percent of the room raised their hands. Quinn told them to ignore the noise: “Let’s do what we do.”

    So today Quinn is following his own advice. He’s not reaching out to Fowler. If he did, he might tell him how proud he is, how he knew Fowler would get to this place, one way or another.

    “It was really hard for him,” Quinn says. “But through all that, he had a lot of resiliency. The bumps haven’t been easy, but those are the moments that test us. He’ll be able to use this year for the rest of his career. He can say, I stood tall and found a way.”

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  • r8rh8rmike
    Burwell: Robert Quinn Offered Hope In Fellow Player's Time Of Need
    by r8rh8rmike
    Burwell: Robert Quinn offered hope in fellow player's time of need

    By Bryan Burwell
    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Nancy Butters doesn't know all that much about football, but she sure knows plenty about people. Butters is a social worker at Duke University's Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, and you can learn a lot about people when you spend your working hours dealing in the incomprehensible sadness and uncommon inspiration inside a hospital pediatric ward.

    This is where Butters first set eyes on a 19-year-old Robert Quinn sitting amidst a room full of kids his age and much younger. Some of the children in the room were laying in beds with IV needles in their arms. Many were frail and bald, barely clinging to life.

    But there was nothing frail about Quinn. He was a well-muscled football player, not a terminal cancer patient. It was the fall of 2009, two years before the talented University of North Carolina pass rusher would become the first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams. Here he was, two years removed from being told rather clinically that he had a tumor growing in his head and that soon he potentially could end up brain dead.

    "The nurse told me that, then made this very dramatic walk out the room," Quinn remembered. "It was kind of like that Boobie Miles moment (in the movie "Friday Night Lights") when they told him he would never play football again. I looked at my mom and just lost it."

    But Quinn was one of those medical miracles Nancy Butters prays for every day. He was lucky because the doctors not only discovered that his tumor was benign, soon after an operation to shrink the tumor and reduce the swelling to his brain, Quinn was back playing sports and on his way to becoming a scholarship athlete and a future NFL first-round draft pick.

    And now here he was at the hospital — at her request by the way — trying to provide some inspiration for another young football player named Lavelle Sloan, who had recently learned that he too had a tumor lodged on his brain.

    "It was the most amazing thing," Butters said. "Think about it for a moment. It can't be the easiest thing in the world for a kid that young to have survived something like this like Robert had. And you could understand completely if the last thing he wanted to do would be to go into an environment where everyone around him was acting as a reminder of what he'd gotten through. It could have been the last thing he wanted to see or do. But here he was walking right into this ward with kids taking (chemotherapy), and he handled it wonderfully."

    Before you start questioning what sort of character the Rams may have drafted with the No. 14 selection in the first round, you might want to check in with Nancy Butters. You have heard the stories about the kid being permanently expelled from NCAA competition...
    -04-30-2011, 11:15 PM
  • MauiRam
    Burwell: Quinn stands out for Rams
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    Ability to get after QB could be huge boost.

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    As all the extreme wide-bodied and thick-necked giants assembled on the far corner of the Rams Park practice field on Tuesday afternoon, it was easy to see how much defensive end Robert Quinn sticks out in a crowd.

    In a flock of extremely oversized defensive linemen that coach Jeff Fisher loves to collect, Quinn sticks out like a gazelle among the rhinos and elephants. An extremely big gazelle (6-foot-4, 264 pounds), but a gazelle nonetheless. He is cut like a well-muscled inverted triangle, wide shoulders spreading out forever, but everything quickly tapering down to these long, bowlegged sprinter's legs. All around him are 300-pound big bodies, stomping and pounding and rumbling along with sheer power and strength. But there is last year's first-round pick pawing the ground in a three-point stance like Usain Bolt ready to explode out of the starting blocks.

    For now, this is how Quinn sticks out in the crowd. In time, if things go according to plans, the Rams are counting on him to stick out for far more significant reasons. Last year, he showed flashes of his pass rushing potential with five sacks in a part-time role. This year, the expectations are much higher. They are hoping he turns into a fierce double-digit sack artist to go in tandem with Chris Long and turns the Rams defensive line into one of the main strengths of this team.

    Quinn has been impossible to miss in the first weeks of camp. He seems to flash across your eyes in every pass rushing drill like a blur. In 11-on-11 drills, every time you see the flash of white jersey slashing around the edge on the pass rush right into the lap of nearly every quarterback before they can cock their throwing arm, it seems to be No. 94. He has burst past every offensive lineman put in front of him. On the rare occasion that he does not get into the backfield, there's another familiar scene.

    Someone has tugged on Quinn's jersey, almost yanking it off his shoulder pads and nearly hauling him to the ground out of a sense of desperate survival.

    Ask Jeff Fisher if he's noticing the same thing, and he grins as if you're handing out free money. "Yeah, and I'm kinda hoping that sort of thing carries over into the games, too," the head coach said after Tuesday's practice. "It kind of reminds me a little bit — and you might think I'm crazy about the comparison — but it's a little bit like (Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl running back) Chris Johnson's rookie year in training camp where you kept saying, 'Gosh, if this was a game do you think he'd score on that?' Well now it's like, 'Boy if this was a game, he'd have a few sacks by the time the game's over, right?'"

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    -08-08-2012, 01:33 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Porter Trades In Pom-Poms For Rams' Special Teams
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    ST. LOUIS – Quinn Porter(notes) plays special teams for the St. Louis Rams. He is listed on the roster as a running back, but his primary task is to return kickoffs and play the “gunner” (first man down the field) when the Rams punt. He is a gregarious man with an infectious laugh who gets so excited telling stories that sometimes his mind goes faster than his words. He then has to stop and start over.

    Some of this makes him no different than those who dress around him in the Rams’ locker room. What sets Porter apart, though, is that his teammates were recruited out of high school to play college football and were scouted by the NFL throughout their college careers. In most cases, the NFL is not a surprise.

    Porter, however, was recruited by no one. And when he did pay his way to tiny Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he wasn’t academically eligible to play on the football team. So he did something that would be unthinkable to his NFL teammates:

    He became a cheerleader.

    “I prefer stuntman,” he says. Because after all, “cheerleader” leaves the impression he was screaming chants into a megaphone and Porter didn’t do that. Instead he clapped and threw the female cheerleaders into the air and caught them and stood next to the field on which he someday hoped to play.

    “Don’t forget you’re going places,” his mother, Kim Oliver, back in California, used to say. And so he believed her even as he wore the tight shirt, clapped and held other cheerleaders over his head.

    “He’s always been very determined,” Kim says.


    Football was Quinn’s dream since he was 7 years old and his stepfather, David Oliver, put him in pads and sent him out for his youth football games. But he grew only to be 5-foot-8, 165 pounds as a teenager and the coach at Quartz Hill High School outside Lancaster, Calif., didn’t like to play underclassmen, according to Oliver, so Porter played only his senior year. This didn’t dissuade him from his passion.

    He bombarded USC with the few game tapes he had, sending them as high up as athletic director Mike Garrett. Oliver, realizing a more modest goal for the child, sent tapes to smaller schools around the country with little response. It wasn’t until they attended an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) convention at their church that the name Stillman came up.

    It turned out there was a teacher at a local community college who knew the president of Stillman, and the subject of Porter’s possible enrollment was broached. He had never heard of Division II Stillman, but the football coaches seemed interested in having Porter walk on. Since he says the...
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  • MauiRam
    Hay's Journey Just Beginning ..
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    By Nick Wagoner

    At this weekend’s rookie minicamp, offensive lineman Michael Hay will be one of 39 bright-eyed youngsters hoping to make a strong first impression on the Rams’ coaching staff. The 38 others might want to be on the football field as much as Hay but none will need it more.

    Where the road diverges, Hay doesn’t see football as just a sport or an opportunity to play a game he loves. For him, it’s so much more.

    “This game saved my life,” Hay says with an air of absolute certainty.

    Like his rookie classmates, Hay loves football. The field represents a bit of a sanctuary, 100 yards of green solitude where the trials and tribulations of a bumpy past can be forgotten.

    Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse last week after starting every game at tackle for the Orange the past two years, Hay comes to the Rams with big dreams and every possible motivation to get his foot in the NFL door.

    It was only about five years ago that those dreams were almost dashed in an instant, gone with the swipe of a knife in a fistfight that spun wildly out of control. Hay had been stabbed in his chest, just below his left arm, cut through the rib cage and diaphragm, leaving a collapsed lung in its wake.

    As Hay was rushed to the hospital and headed to surgery, his thoughts turned quickly to the game he loves. With mother Maria and father Arthur in tow, Hay looked up at the attending surgeon and asked what the damage would be in terms of his football hopes.

    The answer wasn’t what he’d wanted to hear.

    “I had camp two weeks later and I told the surgeon that I have to be ready, I’ve got to get to camp,” Hay said. “He gave me a look, kind of smirked at me like ‘What is this kid thinking about right now?’ He told me ‘Honestly, I don’t know if you will ever play the game again.’ And I broke down in tears, looked at my mom and dad and said ‘I’m going to show him, I’m going to get back out there.’”

    Hay grew up in a supportive family in College Point, New York, an industrial part of Queens, with two working parents doing all they can to provide for the family. There, he learned the importance of hard work from his father who was a construction worker in the city.

    Bigger than most kids his age, Hay became a force on a very talented Holy Cross High football team in Flushing. At 6’5, 283 pounds, Hay was one of the top linemen on one of the best teams in the city. He drew plenty of interest to play at the college level but none from any major Division I schools as he’d hoped.

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    “It was to a point where we confronted each other in person...
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  • MauiRam
    Good story ... and apparently the Rams are interested ...
    by MauiRam Page 2

    Friday, April 27, 2007
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    Glasper learns the hard lessons of football

    By Alan Grant
    Special to Page 2

    There's a difference between pain and injury. Pain is fleeting. Even in various degrees of discomfort, it's possible to function at a very high level of competency. Any athlete knows this. But injury is lasting. Injury has the power to rob us of our dreams. Injury makes us mortal.

    Boston College safety Ryan Glasper, who went undrafted this weekend, knows pain. It's the kind of pain that accompanies many citizens of New Britain, Conn., or "Hard-Hittin' New Britain," as it's called. The city of 70,000, once a thriving factory town, is now known for its housing projects. As a kid, Glasper was innately rambunctious, engaging in activities like jumping off the second floor of a house onto a mattress. His mother, Brenda, suggested football was a great way to deal with his reckless sensibility. This proved a great solution. He was a natural at running into things.

    The family had what he calls financial difficulties.

    "I didn't really know it at the time," he says. "I was a happy kid. But looking back on it in retrospect, I can see we had it hard."

    When it became evident Brenda could no longer provide a home, Glasper's Pop Warner football coach contacted Jude Kelly, the football coach at Southington (Conn.) High School. He and Glasper's mother determined that the best thing for the young man was a change of address and a school district that offered him better opportunity for growth.

    Glasper moved into the Kelly residence and once classes began, so did the pain. There were only about five black kids in the school. His wardrobe was typical inner-city: Roca Wear, worn in a baggy style.

    After playing through a hip injury as a senior, Glasper went undrafted.

    "I wasn't wearing Abercrombie and Fitch," Glasper says. "I stood out, so they called me a thug."

    In the first week, one white student called Glasper the n-word.

    This led to a violent retort, the first of many. By the time that first semester ended, Glasper had been labeled a problem.

    "Let's just say I was written up a few times," Glasper says.

    He was something of a problem at home, too. Kelly was Catholic and attending mass was a regular habit for members of the Kelly household. But Glasper wanted no part of it, so he resisted the way any adolescent resists.

    "I used to call him Pope Kelly because he went to church so much," Glasper says. "If communion started at 11:40, I would argue with him until 11:35."

    But it takes just one...
    -05-02-2007, 11:17 AM