KEARNEY – Luke Quinn could have left the University of Nebraska at Kearney football program.
After graduating last December with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, he thought about starting his career, buying a car and helping his family back in Arizona.
“I was unsure if I wanted to play again,” said Quinn, who was eligible for a rare sixth season after redshirting as a freshman and missing the entire 2017 campaign with an ACL injury.
Nobody would have criticized him for moving on to the next chapter in life. All the practices, workouts, meetings and film sessions can be a grind for a student-athlete who’s also balancing coursework and community service, especially when they’re 1,200 miles from home.
“It has to mean something for you to be here,” Quinn said. “That’s what made me stay, made me push harder. You want to have an impact on people. You want to change people’s perception of the team and their perception of you.”
The Scottsdale native knew he needed one more season to accomplish that goal.
“This is by far the most talented team the Lopers have had since I’ve been here,” he said. “I knew it was going to be something special this year. I knew what we were capable of.
“There was no way I could not be a part of that. I love football too much. I love being with my teammates too much.”
Quinn and 24 of those teammates will finish their UNK football careers Saturday in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. The Lopers (6-5) face Winona State University (8-3) from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
It’s the 12th postseason appearance in the UNK football program’s 113-year history and only the second bowl game – Nebraska State Teachers College beat Northern State Teachers College, 34-13, in the 1955 Botany Bowl in Shenandoah, Iowa.
For fifth-year senior Alex McGinnis, this is the opportunity he’s been dreaming about since he was an 18-year-old freshman.
“We used to always talk about wanting to change the program,” he said, “and now we’ve accomplished what we said we wanted to do. We’re leaving the program better than when we found it.”
McGinnis, Quinn and several other UNK seniors still remember the tough times.
The Lopers went 1-21 during the two seasons prior to head coach Josh Lynn’s arrival in 2017. Some players left the program, but those who stayed have been a key component of the turnaround.
“When you bring in a new coach, there’s always some questions or concerns,” Lynn said. “But these guys bought into everything we’ve done and they made others buy in. That’s the ultimate compliment. They’re a big part of what we’re trying to do here and where we’re trying to go with the program.”
Like Quinn, there was a time when McGinnis questioned his future with the program. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound quarterback wasn’t recruited for Lynn’s run-heavy offense, and he knew that could impact his playing time.
“I understood that I might be put in a tough spot,” said McGinnis, a Class B all-state selection at Crete High School.
However, he decided to remain at UNK, where he’s started 16 games and racked up nearly 2,800 total yards with 25 touchdowns.
“I could name about 40 different dudes who were a big reason why I wanted to stay,” he said. “There’s definitely a correlation between our success and the type of people who are in the program.”
McGinnis started all 11 games last season, leading the Lopers to a 5-6 record, and he was the main signal-caller through the first four games of 2019 before MIAA Freshman of the Year TJ Davis took over the role.
“I learned a lot about myself as far as the type of guy I wanted to be,” McGinnis said of the change.
According to Lynn, he’s a “great teammate” who gives 100% every day while supporting and encouraging the other quarterbacks.
“He’s been nothing but positive for our program,” the UNK coach said.
Quinn, who has played for three different head coaches during his Loper career, also had to adjust to a new role.
After leading the team with 968 yards from scrimmage and 13 TDs as the workhorse back in 2016, the 5-foot-9, 190-pounder spent the 2017 season recovering from that ACL injury. When he got back on the field, Quinn began splitting his time between running back, wide receiver and punt returner.
Lynn calls him “one of our best players.”
“What really defines Luke is his overall love for the game,” Lynn said.
The sixth-year senior enters Saturday’s bowl game with 2,313 all-purpose yards and 20 TDs as a Loper.
With a victory against Winona State, the UNK football team would secure its first winning season since 2011.
McGinnis and the other Lopers know that’s far more important than any individual records or awards.
“I didn’t come here for personal accolades,” McGinnis said. “I came here to be part of a bowl game. To see that come to fruition has been a pretty surreal experience.”
The two-time MIAA Academic Honor Roll selection wants to end his career on a high note before graduating Dec. 20 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in supply chain management.
Quinn, a five-time MIAA Academic Honor Roll selection, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.
He has no regrets about returning to UNK for a sixth season.
“I have the rest of my life to make money,” he said.
Both players believe this senior class is leaving a solid foundation for future success at UNK.
“We’re making progress every year and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon,” Quinn said. “There’s a good thing going on here.”
MINERAL WATER BOWL
UNK (6-5) faces Winona State University (8-3) in the Mineral Water Bowl.
Kickoff is scheduled for noon Saturday at Tiger Field in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.
The game will be broadcast live on KRVN 93.1 FM, krvn.com and KLPR 91.1 FM. Both radio stations are also available on the TuneIn Radio app.
The MIAA Network is livestreaming the game at themiaanetwork.com.