Rookie RB Porter Is Worth Cheering For


Forced to sit out of football his first year at Stillman College as a partial qualifier under NCAA rules, Quinn Porter wanted to find some way to stay close to the team. Be around it, still get to know the players and coaches, maybe learn some plays, all of that.

But he didn't become a team manager, a statistician, or a towel or water boy, though any of those would make a good story, too, now that five years later Porter is fighting for a roster spot as a non-drafted rookie running back for the Green Bay Packers.

No, Porter took a route for which he endured some ridicule, and earned a less-than-flattering nickname that stuck for a while. But he has no regrets.

He became a cheerleader. Well, he prefers the term stuntman, because he insists that he stood with his hands behind his back and didn't do any clapping or cheering like the rest of the Stillman squad. But he did entertain the crowds with backflips, roundoffs, and other stunts like hoisting two female cheerleaders above his head, one on each arm.

"I didn't want to just sit out," Porter said. "I didn't want to be at school while the team was away. I did what I had to do."

He earned a partial scholarship too, an enticing incentive for a Southern California transplant who arrived at the historically black college in Tuscaloosa, Ala., sight unseen. He had the blessing of his parents to move that far from home when his dreams of playing for his hometown USC Trojans never materialized, and his folks preferred to see him escape some potentially bad influences around Los Angeles rather than play near home at a junior college.

A mentor from his church suggested a place like Stillman, and Porter decided he'd just walk on to the football team. Then, knowing he would be redshirting a year to gain academic eligibility, the offer to join the cheerleading squad was worth exploring when he was "recruited" by two female students at freshman orientation.

"These pretty girls walked up to me and started a friendly conversation with me and said, 'Are you interested in cheerleading?'" Porter recalled. "I was kind of spooked. I said, 'I'm not a cheerleader, I'm a football player.'

"But they were like, 'Well, we'll give you scholarship money for the football and basketball seasons, room and board on away games, ...' So I thought about it for three days and called my parents up, and they said, 'If that's what you want to do, go ahead and do it.' But my Pop was a little skeptical."

Dad might have objected more strenuously had he known the moniker his son's Stillman teammates would stick him with upon joining the team after that redshirt year. On the cheerleading squad, Porter was known as "QP," but when he migrated to the football team the following year, he became "Pom-Poms."

If it started as a joke, it quickly became a motivational tool. Not for Porter, but for the first-string defenders he started schooling in practice. Beginning his college career as "a sixth-string wide receiver wearing No. 80," Porter would hear the defensive guys get on each other every time he caught a pass on the scout team - "Don't let Pom-Poms do that to you ... Can't have Pom-Poms do that again ... Oooh, Pom-Poms has got some game."

Porter couldn't care less about the nickname, as long as he was getting noticed. Only it seemed everyone was noticing except the coaches, who left him off the traveling roster for the first four games of the season.

That prompted Porter to make a move even gutsier than the whole cheerleading bit. At the start of Week 5, Porter skipped his 9 a.m. Monday class and walked into the head coach's office to convince him he should be playing.

When the coach asked him where he thought he should play, Porter asked to get a shot at running back, well aware the starter had gone down with a knee injury in the season opener.

"So Tuesday, in the first period of practice, we're doing red zone, from the 20-yard line," Porter said. "I went three times in a row. They gave me a counter play, a pitch play, and an inside-zone play, and I scored all three times."

Porter was named the starter for that week's game against in-state rival Miles College, televised on ESPN2, and he hasn't looked back. By the end of that first season, he had tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns in one game.

Three years later, he was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's leading rusher, with 1,247 yards in nine games, a 138.1-yard average that ranked fifth in the nation in Division II. True to the mantra that he'd do anything to help the team, he even handled the punting duties for two seasons, and returned some kicks.

A speedy dual threat as a rusher and receiver out of the backfield, the 6-foot, 205-pounder finished his career with 511 carries for 2,788 yards (5.5 avg.) and 24 TDs, plus 68 receptions for 887 yards (13.0 avg.) and 12 more scores.

Not bad for a cheerleader, er, stuntman.

Porter held out some hope he might be drafted, and he got a few calls in the late rounds back in April, but was never picked. He said the Packers called him midway through the seventh and final round and told him if he was still available when the draft ended, they'd like to sign him.

"Right after that last pick, I got the phone call, and me and my agent agreed we were done waiting," Porter said. "We waited for seven rounds, and I took my first opportunity."

Once again, he's had no regrets. He said he loves working with Packers running backs coach Edgar Bennett, and he appreciates the way Bennett has explained the playbook and the installations as the OTAs have progressed.

{sportsad300}Like many of the rookies, especially the non-drafted ones, Porter is around the facility quite a bit. He's making fast friends, studying his playbook, watching film and studying some more. He's taking considerable pains to learn the running backs' assignments in pass protection, knowing that anyone in the Green Bay backfield has to be trusted to block for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

On the field, he's had a chance to show his speed and his hands as a pass-catcher in the flat. He also has taken some reps as a return man, having posted two 90-yard kickoff returns for TDs at Stillman last season.

"I go 150 percent," he said. "You look at the depth chart, I'm probably behind a couple of people. It's cool, though.

"They're throwing a lot at us right now, but I think this is a test as well. It's still our evaluation to see how we're able to soak so much information in. I'm studying every night."

He's working to beat the odds that are stacked against any non-drafted rookie. But there are always one or two in this lot that do make the team every year, and Porter has succeeded plenty with unconventional paths already.

He's gone from L.A. to Stillman to Green Bay, and from cheerleader to sixth-string receiver to running back. He's not holding his hands behind his back anymore, that's for sure.

"My mom always told me to distinguish yourself from the crowd, that they're not going where you're going," Porter said. "I took that to heart, how I can make a difference and build myself from the ground up, and I've done that.

"It's still an exciting feeling, walking in here and seeing that 'G' on the floor. That represents a lot. I've come in here to give it my all."

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