ST. PETERSBURG — As Shaquille Quarterman left Tropicana Field this week after practice for Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game, he couldn’t avoid another flashback to one of the lowest points in Miami’s history: Former Florida International quarterback James Morgan launch a 50-yard bomb into the end zone.
“He dropped one of those on us,” Quarterman said.
Two, actually. Morgan threw a pair of touchdowns in Miami’s stunning defeat to FIU in November. That 30-24 upset was the lowlight of the Hurricanes’ modern era — unless a 14-0 Independence Bowl loss to Skip Holtz’s Louisiana Tech became the program’s new rock bottom a month later.
Either way, Miami is 14-16 since rising to No. 2 in the nation in 2017. And few players are better equipped to explain the program’s downfall than Quarterman, who experienced the peak of the Orange Bowl run and the valleys of the last two seasons by starting every game at linebacker since arriving as a four-star prospect in 2016.
“What went wrong?” Quarterman asked. “When you think about what it takes to be a top-notch college football team contending, first you have to start with your senior class.”
The outgoing one at Miami had talent. Quarterman was a two-time all-ACC selection who finished with the ninth-most tackles in program history (356). Linebacker Michael Pinckney was solid, and Buffalo grad transfer K.J. Osborn topped 1,000 all-purpose yards.
But Quarterman’s class was small; Miami honored only 14 seniors on senior day.
Of the fifteen ’Canes who caught at least one pass this season, only one was a senior (Osborn). Although five seniors started the bowl game on defense, only one did on offense. The starting offensive line in Shreveport featured two true freshmen, a redshirt freshman, a sophomore and a redshirt sophomore.
“Now we’re leaning on a lot of younger guys that haven’t quite been —they’re just not ready yet,” Quarterman said. “They haven’t been groomed. They haven’t been vetted. They don’t yet have the mentality of a Miami Hurricane.”
That’s to be expected of young players, Quarterman said. But if you have a depth chart full of them, the program can stumble. When losses start mounting the way they did in Miami’s 6-7 season, underclassmen stop buying in.
“Especially when we have a lot of younger guys who put in the work and really show and really care, but the results don’t come out how you want…it’s hard (for them) to come to work every day,” Quarterman said. “It takes a different type of mentality.”
Quarterman, unquestionably, had the right one. He played with passion in all 52 of his games. He deserves to be remembered as one of the program’s most respected players since the glory days of The U.
And if you believe Quarterman had the mentality the Hurricanes need to get back into championship contention, Quarterman said you have to believe second-year coach Manny Diaz can lead the program there.
“Because the mentality that I have partly came from Coach Diaz,” Quarterman said of Diaz, who was his defensive coordinator for three years before becoming his head coach last season. “I know the type of man that he is. I know the type of coach that he is. He won’t allow Miami to have another year like that. Not on him. He cares too much…
“I know he learned a lot from his first year. As everybody sees, now he’s making changes. All the stuff off the field that we maybe had and just not the complete buy-in from the team, I seriously doubt that will happen again this year. I just know him too well to let it slide like that again.”
Diaz has already started changing the program to avoid another failure, firing offensive coordinator Dan Enos the day after the bowl and replacing him with former Gus Malzahn protégé Rhett Lashlee.
Whether that will fix the nation’s No. 90 scoring offense won’t be clear until September. By then, Quarterman will probably be somewhere on an NFL roster.
He could have been on one in 2019, too. But the 6-foot-1, 238-pound Quarterman chose to remain in Coral Gables for his fourth and final season.
Even after the way things ended with an embarrassing three-game losing skid to close an unacceptable season, Quarterman said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s just a blessing I was able to go through four years, play every game...” Quarterman said. “That was all I ever wanted to do: Play my heart out for my team as hard as I could. As long as I could do that, I could smile at whatever the outcome was.”
And as rough as the last two years have been at Miami, Quarterman still believes his former program will give him reasons to smile, as soon as this fall.
“I have the utmost faith in the staff there and Coach Diaz,” Quarterman said. “I’m not really worried about next year. I know Miami’s only going to go up.”
East-West Shrine Game
Player experience: 1-3:30 p.m. Friday at Tropicana Field. Free and open to the public.
Game: 3 p.m. Saturday, Tropicana Field
Tickets: $15 general admission. Purchase here