Quinn Backus leaves Coastal Carolina as the most decorated player in Chanticleer football history, but as he’s already learned, that earns him no guarantees at the next level.
Backus said he knew he would likely not be selected during the seven-round NFL Draft last weekend, but that didn’t make the reality any easier as the final picks were announced without his name being called.
“We were just sitting at a hotel watching it and as the picks went by, I broke down,” Backus said of watching the final day of the draft Saturday with his parents visiting. “I knew coming in I would be undrafted. It’s just a matter of seeing 256 picks down to “Mr. Irrelevant,” I was like, ‘Man.’ I was emotional for about 5-10 minutes and then I just thought about it. I had my former coaches call and say, ‘Hey, you know what you’ve got to do, just be patient and God works in mysterious ways.’
“It was just a combination of things and letting go of saying, ‘Why me? Why am I not getting a chance?’ But in reality God was just saying, ‘Trust me, be patient.’”
Because Backus will get his chance nonetheless to earn his way onto an NFL roster. Shortly after the draft concluded Saturday, Backus reached an agreement with the Houston Texans to sign as an undrafted free agent.
He leaves Thursday for the team’s rookie minicamp, which runs Friday through Sunday, and he’ll be looking to prove himself as a special teams contributor. If he can stick around, he’ll work at transitioning to safety after starring as a smallish 5-foot-10, 215-pound linebacker at Coastal Carolina.
With the Chants, Backus earned FCS All-American status in varying forms for three straight seasons and became the first player to be named Big South Defensive Player of the Year three times. He finished with a program-record 414 total tackles, which ranks second in conference history and 14th in FCS history. He also totaled nine forced fumbles, eight interceptions, 9.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss while scoring two defensive touchdowns.
Again, though, what matters now is what he can show this weekend and moving forward.
“So far, I’m considered a special teams guy. That’s how I’m going to make the team and that’s my primary focus,” Backus said. “I know for me to be on that 53-man roster, it’s special teams, so that’s my motivation.
“For me to transition to safety at the pro level, I know that will take some time so I just have to get in and help the team anyway I can. I’m willing to do anything I can to be on that team at the end of August.”
There is precedent for Backus’ path from undrafted free agent out of Coastal Carolina to playing in the NFL.
Former Chants running back Mike Tolbert is the most successful example, becoming a Pro Bowl and All-Pro fullback for the Carolina Panthers in 2013 after initially proving himself as an undrafted free agent from the 2008 class with the San Diego Chargers. Former Chants safety Quinton Teal also reached the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2007 with the Panthers and became a productive special teams contributor, playing his last season with the Chargers in 2011.
Overall, eight former Chants have been drafted or played in the league, including Tolbert, Teal, quarterback Tyler Thigpen (seventh-round draft pick in 2007), wide receiver Jerome Simpson (second-round pick in 2008), linebacker Maurice Simpkins (another undrafted free agent who took a long and winding path before making the league in 2010), cornerback Josh Norman (fifth-round pick in 2012, running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth-round pick in 2014) and wide receiver Matt Hazel (sixth-round draft pick in 2014).
“Right now I just continue to grind. What I’ve been telling myself [is] I’ve been motivated and I’m not the only guy who went undrafted,” Backus said. “People who are in the NFL now paved the way for undrafted free agents.”
Speaking earlier this week, Backus said he wasn’t sure what financial commitment if any comes along with his opportunity, and that’s not something he’s thinking about at this point.
“I just talked to my agent and all I know is I leave Thursday and I just need to be ready to go,” he said. “As far as a signing bonus and stuff, I’ll just let that take of itself. If I don’t make the team, I don’t get a signing bonus. ... At the end of the day I love the game of football. Just to say I [get a chance to] continue to play in the NFL, that’s a childhood dream.”
Backus said he found support after the draft in talking to teammates Chad Hamilton and Denzel Rice, who also signed as undrafted free agents.
Meanwhile, it was another Coastal Carolina connection that he knows helped get him this chance with the Texans.
Former Chants linebackers coach Doug Colman is an assistant special teams coach with the Texans, and Backus spoke of his appreciation for that connection.
Again, though, there are no guarantees at this point. It’s now up to Backus to make his dream a reality.
“This is like the first step. You’ve got your rookie minicamp and then the regular minicamp with the veterans,” he said. “If I go down and ball out, do what I’m supposed to do and make the first cut, then I’ll be back with them for the veteran minicamp. ... And then [hopefully] make it to training camp. That’s the key is getting to training camp.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.