"He's the best to ever do it here. No question."
Those were the words in October, 2012 of a longtime coach/observer of the Trinity High School football program. A man who had seen the likes of Jeff and Brian Brohm, Dean May and Carwell Gardner don the green and white for the Shamrocks. A man who believed that James Quick was better than all of them.
About a month after that night, Quick became the first player in Kentucky high school football history to score a touchdown in four straight state championship games. A few weeks later he was named the Most Valuable Player of the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Game. On that same day, the hometown star announced that he would be playing his college football at Louisville, instantly becoming the highest-rated offensive recruit to ever sign with the Cardinals.
This is all to say that expectations were understandably high when James Quick arrived on UofL's campus in the summer of 2013. Even with a loaded Cardinal wide receiving corps that already included guys like DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland and Eli Rogers, the five-star freshman was expected to make an immediate impact before becoming one of the top targets in all of college football as a sophomore and junior.
Player blueprints are never an exact science, and Quick is a prime example.
Quick's freshman season was more notable for the passes he didn't catch than the few -- six, to be exact -- that he did. He did score a memorable touchdown ... on special teams, returning a fumbled snap on a punt for a score against Central Florida. His sophomore campaign got off to a rocky start before he ever ran a route when he and former teammate (and current Kentucky Wildcat) Jason Hatcher were cited for marijuana possession in June, 2014.
When Parker went down with a foot injury that would force him to miss the first seven games of the 2014 season, Quick was the player most Louisville fans pointed towards as the guy who would pick up the slack. Despite showing flashes of his All-American potential -- a 7 catch, 174 yard, 2 touchdown performance against Florida International was especially impressive --most of the buzz around Quick last fall still centered more around his ill-timed drops, his costly muffed punts, and his mysterious suspension for the Boston College game than anything else.
Had Quick been a former 2-star recruit from Wyoming, his 36 catches for 566 yards and three touchdowns last season would have been celebrated appropriately. His whittling down on drops and propensity for making clutch catches on 3rd down as the season went on would have also been duly noted. Instead, the hometown high school star who was supposed to become the hometown college All-American is headed into his junior year hoping to shed the stigma of being something of an underachiever.
"Sometimes you've just got to put that out of your mind and let it go because they're not the ones out there catching balls," Quick told ESPN Louisville's Drew Deener during Louisville's media day. "It's just one of those things you don't listen to too much. All you can do is listen to what your coaches tell you and get coached up every day."
Despite disappointing returns in years one and two, there is hype surrounding Quick once again as he prepares to take the field for the first time in 2015. The ACC Digital Network included him on its "top 25 players in the ACC" list, and noted college football guru Phil Steele gave Quick a nod on his preseason All-ACC team.
Part of the predicted increase in production is because Parker will be suiting up for the Miami Dolphins this season. Another part is because Quick will be moving back to his more natural position in the slot. Regardless of the rationale behind the bolstered expectations, Quick is well aware that the time for him to make good on them has arrived.
"My teammates have pushed me to go harder," he said. "That's made me a better player because my teammates have really looked at me as a leader and want me to make that jump to the next level."
A couple of seasons of perceived underachieving could be a sign of immaturity or a nod to the talent of the guys playing in front of the player in question. Tack one more season onto that total and it becomes a trend that's impossible to deny. It also becomes a trend that is almost never derailed in year four.
When it comes to finally assuming the starring role he was cast in years ago, it certainly feels like it's now or never for James Quick.
A version of this column appears in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune