CONWAY — Maybe the talk hasn’t really started yet inside the Coastal Carolina locker room, and even if it has, well, sophomore linebacker Quinn Backus isn’t ready to hear it.
But if he keeps performing at the pace he has through the first seven games of the season, the emerging standout from Greenwood is going to be right in the middle of the discussion for Big South Defensive Player of the Year honors – regardless of whether or not he wants to acknowledge it just yet.
“Not really,” Backus said when asked if any of his teammates have made the same suggestion. “If they do mention it, I just try to [act] like I don’t hear it and just continue on.”
With one attention-grabbing, accolade-worthy performance after another.
The true sophomore has already been named the conference’s defensive player of the week three times this season – including last week after tallying nine tackles and a sack in the Chanticleers’ win at VMI – and he ranks second in the Big South in tackles per game at 10.7. With 75 total tackles through seven games, he is on pace to break the program’s single-season record of 116 set by Jamar Leath in 2006 all the while solidifying his stature as one of the league’s young standouts.
Not bad for a first-year starter.
“I seen him come in during the summer, he always worked hard and I pretty much just kind of judged him off of that and I knew he’d someday be a great player,” CCU senior defensive end Quinton Davis said. “But I didn’t think about it being so soon.”
The play of Backus and junior Mike McClure at linebacker has no doubt been one of the highlights for the Coastal defense this season, and a particularly noteworthy development given the collective surprise around the program when new defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin promoted the two first-year starters over senior leader Andrae Jacobs – the 2010 Big South Defensive Player of the Year.
After the coaching shakeup this offseason, though, Backus knew that opportunity might be there for him,
“When we found out we got a new coaching staff and stuff, that was kind of 50-50,” Backus said. “But I felt like, we’ve got new coaches so that will give me a chance to go out and compete for a starting position. It won’t be like coaches showing favoritism or nothing like that. That’s how I took it as, so this summer I committed myself to going to every summer workout and just making everything that was team-related.”
He added that he and his roommates talked a lot this offseason about the opportunity that was before them and challenging themselves to match the exploits – relatively speaking – of the college football standouts they saw and heard about in the national media.
“Honey Badger, last year what he did at LSU, he was a true sophomore and he had a great year,” Backus said of 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrone Mathieu. “I was joking about it and I was like, ‘I’m going to have a Honey Badger year.’ I was just joking around, but ...”
He may not have a catchy nickname yet, but Backus has indeed made a name for himself this season.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Backus has three tackles for loss, two pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble so far in addition to his prodigious tackles total.
“Both [Backus and McClure] have a lot of speed, and usually sometimes when you put guys in there that have speed they don’t always have the physicality,” CCU linebackers coach Doug Colman said. “But Quinn’s got a great mixture of both. And as far as being able to play the pass and play the run efficiently, he’s been really good at it. He knows his skill set. He knows that guys are bigger than him, so the technique that he’s learned he’s really kind of bought into it. ... I think he’s just going to continue to get better.”
CCU head coach Joe Moglia said much of the same.
“Quinn’s had a great season, and I think he’s not even near where I think he can be one of these days,” Moglia said.
Backus had shown considerable potential at Greenwood High School and was one of eight finalists for South Carolina’s Mr. Football award as a senior, but he was only lightly recruited despite his prep accomplishments. He says that he also had interest from Gardner-Webb and Division II programs like Carson-Newman, Mars Hill and North Greenville, and while he was a bit frustrated that he didn’t draw more offers, he said he kept that in perspective.
“I was fortunate to get a scholarship. There’s other people in the country that feel like, ‘I can play at this type of level,’ but they don’t get that opportunity,” he said. “So it’s all about taking advantage of your opportunities. So I can’t just sit there and pout about, ‘Well, Clemson didn’t talk to me, Carolina didn’t talk to me.’ ”
He says he shares that same message with Coastal recruits now – that it’s just all about taking advantage of the opportunities that exist.
And as for any considerations or honors that might come his way after this breakout sophomore season of his, Backus said he prefers to just keep the focus on doing the things that have gotten him this far.
“I try not to think about it [and] just take it one game at a time because a lot of times when you start focusing on the wrong things, things start slipping,” he said. “You start letting your team down or things don’t go as you planned, so I just try not to think about it right now.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.