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Hay bales, not barbells, get Cougars' O'Quinn ready for football

Jeff Birchfield • Aug 1, 2018 at 12:36 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan Central senior linebacker Jerimiah O’Quinn is a throwback to a previous generation.

While his teammates get ready for the football season by working in the gym with dumbbells and barbells, O’Quinn is out on the farm throwing hay bales up on the trailer and in the barn.

“It’s hard work,” O’Quinn said. “I will get out early in the morning, help my papaw and then will come here and practice. We own cattle and go out and bale hay every year. I throw the square bales and we build fences. It’s helped me a lot in football.

“I’m more conditioned and can do things the other kids can’t do. You don’t have the breaks out there on the farm.”

His teammates have a hard time keeping up with O’Quinn, who is sometimes described as “country strong.” Cougars coach Chris Steger sometimes laughs and shakes his head when he talks about O’Quinn coming to practice.

“He’s one of the stronger, pound-for-pound, kids on the field,” Steger said. “He will leave here and go throw hay bales all day on his grandfather’s farm. He comes in here never driving the same truck. They’ll say ‘Farm Use’ on them.

“I never know what he’s going to show up in, but when he does, he is ready to go.”

Part of the strength comes from dealing with about 100 head of Angus cattle, as well as other animals like sheep, peacocks and alpacas. O’Quinn noted that after herding a 1,500-pound bull, a 180-pound running back doesn’t seem all that intimidating.

On the football field, O’Quinn is often the one intimidating as a 5-foot-7, 160-pound linebacker in the Cougars’ 4-3 defense.

“I like hitting people,” he said. “It’s fun to go impose your will on somebody. That’s what I like most about playing linebacker.”

Back home, the hitting often consists of O’Quinn taking the head of a sledgehammer and making contact with the end of a fencepost.

“Everybody talks about my arms being big,” he said. “That’s swinging hammers and driving fenceposts. That’s a lot of work and that’s where that happens. Football is my break where I don’t have to go home and work.”

His future plans, however, aren’t linked to the farm. He plans on going to college to study physics and engineering.

Said O’Quinn: “I like to farm, but I don’t want to stay on the farm.”

Before he leaves high school, he wants to help Sullivan Central harvest some wins. The Cougars go into the season with a 30-game losing streak, but O’Quinn said the tough times have only made them stronger.

“It’s not a question of if we’re going to win, but when, because we’ve put in all the hard work, the hours and dedication,” O’Quinn said. “The losing hasn’t driven us apart, it’s brought us together and we want to get that first win for the school in a long time.”

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