On the second play from scrimmage in UK’s 38-0 loss to Florida, fans may have been surprised to see a white No. 16 jersey in the Gators’ backfield.
Senior wide receiver La’Rod King had not decided to play defense. It was freshman cornerback Cody Quinn, who shares No. 16 with King but was making his first career start.
On that play, Quinn helped trip up Florida tailback Mike Gillislee behind the line of scrimmage on what ended up as a one-yard gain. On the next play Quinn deflected a pass down the sideline to force Florida to punt on its first drive of the game.
All of Quinn’s action to that point had come on a handful of snaps against Western Kentucky.
Cody Quinn. (Photo from UK Athletics)
“He played as well as any freshman I’ve ever been around,” said UK head coach Joker Phillips of Quinn’s performance at Florida. “The guy challenged receivers, made a huge play in the first series.”
Throughout fall camp UK coaches had raved about three true freshmen cornerbacks: Quinn, Fred Tiller and J. D. Harmon.
When the first two-deep depth chart of the season was released, Tiller and Harmon were listed as backups at the two cornerback positions. Quinn was nowhere to be found.
Tiller and Harmon saw action in each of UK’s first two games. Quinn watched from the bench.
But when senior cornerback Cartier Rice was unable to make the trip to Florida due to an injury, it was Quinn the coaches picked to start in his place.
“We felt like of all the kids, he’s really going to have the most grace under fire,” said UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter. “He’s got calm, cool confidence.”
Quinn found out he would start a couple days before the game. He said he was more anxious to play than nervous about making his first start.
Still, he acknowledged the success on Florida’s first drive gave him confidence.
“I felt like I could play with them,” he said.
Quinn finished the game with three tackles and one pass breakup. His play was one of the few highlights for UK in the blowout loss.
“I feel like I played pretty well,” he said. “I made a few mistakes, like knowing where to be and knowing the coverages, but I will gradually pick that up as I go.”
Rice may return to action Saturday against South Carolina, but Quinn will not return to the bench. He was listed as the starter on Monday’s depth chart and should see plenty of action even if Rice plays.
“He’ll play a lot because of how well he played in his first game,” said UK defensive backs coach Mike Cassity.
Rivals.com rated Quinn as a three-star defensive back out of high school. He originally committed to Illinois but reopened his recruitment when Illinois fired head coach Ron Zook.
The Middletown, Ohio, native also received scholarship offers from Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Kent State, Marshall, Miami (OH), Purdue, Toledo and West Virginia, according to the Rivals.com recruiting database. His recruitment to UK was helped when Phillips hired Cassity as his new secondary coach. Cassity was Quinn’s primary recruiter at Marshall.
“When I came here, I mentioned there was guy we were looking at,” Cassity said. “Coach Phillips said, ‘Hey, give it your best shot.’ I went up there, and things came together.”
Quinn was one of eight defensive backs signed by the Wildcats in the class.
He, Tiller and Harmon emerged from the group for playing time at cornerback during fall camp. Freshman Daron Blaylock also broke into the two-deep depth chart at safety.
Quinn had to wait longer to see the field, but he said he didn’t feel any added motivation.
“I think we all feel like we need to prove something,” he said. “We’re freshmen, we’re all trying to get on the field.”
Asked why Quinn’s first extensive action didn’t come until week four, Minter said “I guess he just started playing good,” but Cassity had a different theory.
“I think I do a good job of bringing guys along and playing them when they’re ready,” he said. “Once a guy gets out there to the moment of truth, then some guys elevate and some guys don’t.”
Minter said the play of Quinn, Tiller and Harmon gives the Wildcats the chance to rest starters Rice and senior Martavius Neloms on occasion.
Quinn is proud of the contribution he and his fellow freshmen have made so far.
“We’ve got great depth with Fred, J. D. and me,” he said. “We all can come in and play at any time.”