By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — I'll never forget the first time I heard the name Brian Quick mentioned.
I was in the football office at Appalachian State's Owens Field House on national signing day in 2007 when I bumped into two Mountaineer assistants, Mark Spier and Dale Jones.
Coming off of back-to-back national championships, the two defensive assistants were beaming about the class of recruits that had been inked that day.
But there was one unknown that Spier — ASU's recruiting coordinator until recently taking the head coaching job at Western Carolina — couldn't keep from gushing about.
Speir couldn't say enough good things about Brian Quick, a 6-foot-4 basketball player who had waited until his senior year at Ridge View High School in Columbia, S.C. to begin playing organized football.
"You watch this kid," Spier said. "He is going to be a good one."
Five years later, Spier's words still echo as Quick awaits a trip to Indianapolis this week for the NFL draft combine, where the high-flying wide receiver hopes to secure his place as the brightest prospect in the 2011 Football Championship Subdivision draft class.
They say that first impressions are the most accurate ones and it didn't take long for me to see, as I watched Quick practice a few times that summer, why Spier was so excited about this prodigy.
Besides the personable smile and the driven work ethic, there was an athleticism about Quick that a veteran football writer like myself isn't used to seeing every day.
A few weeks later, my path converged with Quick's again in Ann Arbor, MI.
Little did we know that we were going to see one of the greatest upsets in college football history that afternoon at Michigan Stadium.
Quick's first glimpse at the limelight wasn't a pleasant memory.
Alone in the end zone early in the third quarter, Quick had a perfect pass from quarterback Armanti Edwards hit him in the hands.
But instead of catching a touchdown pass in the Big House that could have opened the floodgates on an Appalachian State rout, Quick inexplicably dropped the pigskin.
The Mountaineers had to settle for a field goal and the next thing you knew, Michigan had charged back to take a 32-31 lead in the fourth quarter.
But Quick still had an important role to play, this time bailing out Edwards after the Mountaineer passer had fired an interception to the Wolverine's Brandent Englemon at the ASU 43 that put Michigan in position to pull further away.
Four plays later, Jason Gingall lined up for a 44-yard field goal, but Quick soared high into the air to block the kick and leave Appalachian State trailing by just one point with 1:47 to play.
With another chance, Edwards marched the Mountaineers down to the five for a go-ahead field goal from 24 yards by Julian Rauch with 26 ticks left on the clock.
Last summer, Quick and I relived those moments and discussed the more famous blocked kick by teammate Corey Lynch on the final play of the game to preserve ASU's historic 34-32 victory.
I told Quick that my study of the game films, documentaries and the television broadcast had led me to the belief that Lynch's play had stolen the heroics from Quick.
Quick laughed and agreed.
"If Corey hadn't have blocked it, I would have," Quick said, flashing that now characteristic smile.
The film shows that Gingall's last-second field goal attempt, from 37-yards out, was heading right back towards Quick, but Lynch's superb special teams play made it a moot point.
Quick's 2007 freshman season was soon cut short by a back injury and he earned a redshirt year because of it, but Mountaineer fans saw plenty of highlight-reel material over the next four years.
I'll always remember Quick slam dunking the ball over the goal post after one of his three touchdown receptions in 2009 against Wofford in a 70-24 Halloween night victory on an ESPN national television broadcast.
The stuffy officials from the Southern Conference flagged Quick for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the penalty was worth it.
Quick finished his ASU career with a school-record 202 catches and 31 touchdowns and several more celebration penalties.
Fans grumbled that Quick's prodigious talents were not utilized enough last season in a spread attack that seemed at times more designed to move the ball around than to focus on playmakers.
He hauled in 71 passes for 1,096 yards (15.4 average per catch) and 11 touchdowns, but Quick never complained about his role.
"I don't care how many passes I catch, as long as I can help our team win games," Quick explained.
When he wasn't catching passes and scoring touchdowns, Quick threw himself into blocking and conditioning. When you visited Appalachian State practices, it wasn't unusual to see Quick among the last players leaving practice each day.
At several sessions during the middle of the year, Quick stayed around to help DeAndre Presley, Quick's one-time quarterback, learn the basics of defensive back when Presley was switched to defense.
That extra work and the looks that NFL scouts received of Presley covering Quick helped the one-time Walter Payton Award finalist get an invite to the combine along with Quick.
There are always skeptics when FCS players are concerned, even though Quick has proven himself against BCS teams like Michigan, LSU, East Carolina, Florida and Virginia Tech during his time at ASU.
But after a slow start during a week at practice for the Senior Bowl last month, Quick earned a reputation for his study in the classroom and his work ethic on the field from NFL scouts and coaches.
Even more critical to Quick's future will be his time at the combine, where strong test scores and a sterling 40-yard dash time could vault him into the low first round, or high second round of the draft.
"If Brian tests well, he won't last past the top 50 players on the board," one draft expert told CSJ.
Of course, none of this comes as a surprise to coaches like Spier, who were expecting big things from Quick all along.