North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn doesn't like to compare himself to others, saying he'd rather become "the first Robert Quinn" rather than the next Julius Peppers.
"Not to sound cocky or conceited, but that's just how I approach the game. I want to be the best," Quinn said. "My strength is that I feel like I've got a never-ending motor."
Quinn does appear to have unlimited fuel to burn, yet he has run out of gas twice: once before he barely got started, and once just when he had kicked it into high gear.
First, he battled through a brain tumor his senior year of high school. Now he's trying to show that he can bounce back from missing yet another season, this one lost because of an NCAA suspension for accepting agent benefits.
"The tumor really made me appreciate just the little things in life. Don't take anything for granted. Live life to the fullest," Quinn said. "And the suspension really made me mature and watch the people who come around me."
Early on in Quinn's senior year at Fort Dorchester High School in North Charleston, S.C., he experienced a series of headaches and blackouts out of the blue. When he endured two blackouts one Sunday morning, his parents immediately sought medical attention.
"An hour or two later, I found out I had a brain tumor," Quinn said. "At one point, they told me I should have been brain dead."
That, however, wasn't even the revelation that resonated most with Quinn.
"It was heartbreaking when they told me I wouldn't be able to play sports anymore," he said. "I looked at my mom and I became that big old baby and busted out in tears.
"It was just heartbreaking, but it didn't slow me down. Three, four years later, I'm still going."
Doctors determined that the tumor was benign, but Quinn still underwent surgery to reduce the size of the tumor and remove fluid that had built up around it.
Outside of the initial recovery period and the continuing need for an MRI every six months, the tumor has had no effect on Quinn since.
"I haven't even had a headache," he said.
Quinn embraced his new lease on life and wasted no time transferring it to the football field. He played for the Tar Heels as a true freshman in 2008, showing a knack right away for making big plays with 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Then, as a sophomore, Quinn truly came into his own. He ranked 15th in the nation with 19 tackles for loss, 16th with 11 sacks and fourth with six forced fumbles. He finished in the top two in the defensive-minded ACC in all three categories.
The sky seemed to be the limit for the 2010 season, but then Quinn dropped like a rock.
"I made a selfish mistake and I paid - me and my team and my family and coaches - paid a price for it," said Quinn, ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA for accepting jewelry and a trip. "If you really care and want to play college ball, you've got to grow up and stay away from what I've been through and a couple other players this year have been through."
Quinn said he has grown from the experience, and he believes his game has grown as well, even after a season of inactivity. Quinn wowed scouts at both the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day at North Carolina, helping ease concerns heading into draft day.
"I'm sure somewhere there's someone that might keep that in the back of their mind, but I haven't gotten that impression," Quinn said. "I think I've got pretty decent football skills, and I don't think you can ever lose those."