LA GRANDE — Kai Quinn’s second season as the starting quarterback of the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers began on Saturday evening with the 2018 opener against College of Idaho, the first game on EOU’s brand-new artificial turf field. It was a better result than his first career start — a 31-21 loss at Southern Oregon — as Quinn led the Mountaineers to a 24-21 win over a pesky College of Idaho team that beat the Mountaineers twice a season ago.
Quinn threw for more than 300 yards and had the game-winning score with a three-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter on Saturday, though those numbers didn’t mean a whole lot to the former Pendleton Buckaroo. Only the victory did.
“I don’t know numbers, all I know is we got the win and that’s all that matters to me,” he said with a smile.
Quinn climbed the ladder pretty quickly from freshman to starting quarterback — the highest profile position on the offense — after first stepping on EOU’s La Grande campus in August of 2016 for his first fall camp. He did not play a single snap as a true freshman, instead he stood on the sidelines and watched the then-EOU starter Zach Bartlow — one of two or three greatest QBs in program history — play the position while Quinn learned how to navigate the college game.
“Being a redshirt behind Zach Bartlow was amazing,” Quinn said. “He taught me so much and on away trips I’d room with him. He’s just a great guy and I’m lucky enough to have him as my quarterback coach now.”
After Bartlow graduated following the 2016 season, Quinn entered an intense quarterback battle and ended up winning the job. He beat out five other quarterbacks on the roster, including his former mentor at Pendleton, Chad McCoy.
EOU head coach Tim Camp said he told Quinn recently that he reminds the coach of the lengendary EOU quarterback Chris Ware because of the tools that he has and how he approaches the game. The statement caught Quinn by surprise, but those qualities and Quinn’s overall talent is what won him the starting job again this season.
“He’s a competitor,” Camp said. “He’s a thick kid who’s not afraid, he makes good choices and he’s gotten better — he’s not 100 percent on them, but he’s gotten better at doing those things and I think this will be a big stepping stone moving forward to really develop his game. ... He has great arm strength, he can run the ball, so those are the things that have always caught my eye and at the end of the day, he’s a tough kid.”
In 2017, Quinn threw for 2,329 yards and 15 touchdowns while completing 53 percent of his passes with 10 interceptions. He also ran for 570 yards and seven touchdowns, continuing the dual-threat ability he showed with the Buckaroos. The experience also taught him first-hand what he needed to focus on in the offseason.
“Last year I was pretty inconsistent as a redshirt freshman, wasn’t as good as I wanted to be reading defenses and stuff,” Quinn said. “Going into this season a big emphasis on working on different balls, touch, being able to still throw it hard. Just knowing where to put the ball on the field.”
Camp is excited to see what Quinn does to improve in Week 2 when EOU hosts its rival, Southern Oregon, for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Community Stadium in La Grande. The coach loves what Quinn brings to the field every day and thinks he has unlimited potential that could put him alongside the likes of Bartlow and Ware by the time his career in La Grande is finished.
“Some kids want to be good ... I have a feeling that kid wants to be great,” Camp said. “I think the sky is the limit with him. We’ve got some work to do, no doubt, but at the same time I like the direction that he’s going.”
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