Kyle Quinn never knew what it was to win a football game on his home turf, at Liberty High School. "We lost 'em all at home," he remembers. "We went 0-9-1 my junior year and 1-9 as a senior. On Senior Day, we lost 42-6."
He is smiling, this California boy-turned-man, as he says this.
He smiles when he talks about a 2-24 high school basketball season. And he laughs when he talks about future NFL players Eben Britton and Earl Mitchell "manhandling him."
"In practice (at the UA)," Quinn says, "they put me on my butt every day."
Over the first 38 games of his Arizona Wildcats career, Kyle Quinn put on uniform No. 76 but he almost never stepped on the field except to walk to and from the locker room.
"I have no regrets," he says, his smile lighting up the room. "It's amazing how it all worked out."
Johnny Football won the Heisman Trophy, but Kyle Quinn won something more important in five Arizona football seasons. He won at the Game of Life.
His is the glass half full.
On his Senior Day at Arizona Stadium, moments before the Territorial Cup against ASU, Quinn stood in the end zone and removed his helmet. As he began to walk under the Bear Down banner, Quinn gave his helmet to his father, Jack, and grabbed the hand of his mother, Lisa, and his girlfriend, Kenzie Fowler, a UA softball pitcher and Canyon del Oro High grad.
It took all of 45 seconds for the team captain, his mom, dad, sisters Courtney and Kelley, and his best friend Kenzie to walk to midfield. It was 45 seconds of bliss, a mini celebration of five years well spent.
"I never knew if Kyle could play at this level, but I knew he'd be a success," Jack Quinn says. "He was always a good kid; a good student and a friendly, smiling face. We never had any issues with him. Whatever he did, he made the best of it."
If the NCAA or the Football Writers or any of the organizations who dispense postseason awards issued a "He Made The Best Of It" trophy, Kyle Quinn would win it.
Quinn wasn't a highly rated center out of Northern California's East Bay. He played for a fractured program - "I had three head coaches in three years," he says - but ultimately former UA linebackers coach Tim Kish spotted Quinn and wrapped him up before Idaho State, Sacramento State, Utah and, finally, nearby Stanford could.
Part of the appeal was that Quinn was a 3.5 student, willing to learn, build his body and put in the time (three years) to make himself into a capable Pac-12 lineman.
Now, five years later, he steps back with an appreciation for the process and the system. How many college ballplayers are that fortunate?
"Do you know they even put my picture on those banners that hang from light poles around campus?" he asks. "How could you have a better experience than I've had? I'm working on my masters, I was voted team captain, I met Kenzie, and my last game will be a bowl game.
"I have no regrets; the chips have fallen pretty good."
Quinn does not say a word about sitting behind star center Colin Baxter for three years. Not a syllable about the 2011 midseason firing of Mike Stoops. Not a peep about the ankle injury that sidelined him for a month, including this year's long-planned "homecoming" for family and friends at Stanford.
Instead, he talks about the process and how it worked.
"I wasn't ready to come in and play right away," he says. "I've learned a lot, especially under Rich Rodriguez, about how far you can be pushed. I'm fortunate to be a part of the senior class that got this train moving."
Part of the get-the-train moving operation can be traced to Quinn's leadership and his willingness to make a stand.
A year ago, fearing that the Stoops-to-Rodriguez coaching change might lead to the departure of offensive line coach Robert Anae, Quinn and guard Trace Biskin went to RichRod's office several times, appealing to keep Anae on the staff.
"We had a good thing going, and we needed to say that; we're glad Coach Rod saw the same thing," says Quinn. "I'm nice and polite, but I'm not soft. When it comes to football, you've got to be willing to step up."
Now, down to his final college game, Kyle Quinn has left an imprint.
"Mentally and physically, he's one of the toughest guys I've ever been around," says UA starting left tackle Mickey Baucus. "He watches more film than anyone I know. He's a gym rat. He's always in the weight room. He takes care of himself on and off the field.
"He's the kind of player you wish more guys were like."
New Mexico Bowl
• Who: Arizona vs. Nevada
• When: 11 a.m. Saturday
• TV; radio: ESPN; 1290-AM, 1490-AM