MORGANTOWN — His name is Quondarius Qualls, but his teammates call him “Q.”
“They call me Q because my name is too long,” the West Virginia “bandit” says.
It’s not a common name, and the website name.org says it is the 24,219th most popular name of all-time, but Qualls is not a common football player.
He is a potential star who WVU would have loved to have used last year — which would have been his senior year after prepping on special teams and as a backup as a junior — but who was rehabbing from knee surgery for most of the season.
He is now healthy and has been moved from defensive line to “bandit”, which is a pass rushing position from either a hand-in-the-ground stance or upright.
He hails from Farmerville, Louisiana, a town of 3,860 people that encompasses the popular fishing and boating waterway known as Lake D’Arbonne and serves as the parish seat for Union Parish.
He attended Union Parish High School, and that, really, is where his story as a football player begins. It’s a small high school, Class AA in Louisiana, one that won a state championship with Qualls in 2013.
He did a little bit of everything there.
“I played receiver, tight end, sometimes running back. On defense I played safety, sometimes linebacker,” he says.
He also ran track, the 100 meters, 4x100 relay, broad jump and triple jump. His best time in the 100 was 10.8 seconds.
He was so athletic he drew the attention of college recruiters, among them a Kansas State assistant named Blake Seiler.
“I made a special trip up to this real small town, Farmerville, to watch him,” Seiler said the other day. “He was all over the place. He played everywhere — special teams, offense, defense. Anyone who runs like that, plays football like that, you need to take a hard look at.”
Although Qualls weighed only 185 pounds then, Seiler envisioned an outside linebacker in Kansas State coach Bill Snyder’s defensive scheme. Qualls thought his recruitment was over, but late in his senior year, right before the signing date in May, he learned he had not qualified academically.
“So I went to JUCO,” he said, having enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College. “I’m glad I went because JUCO kind of humbled me. I learned you have to go through certain strides in life.”
Oh, it was great as far as football went. He got his weight up to 205 pounds and made 122 tackles with 20 sacks to help Northwest Mississippi to its first JUCO national championship in 2015.
There were other things, though.
“The campus was nice, but the food was terrible, I ain’t gonna lie,” he said. “You ever had chicken strips and peaches ... on top of each other?”
“I was like, ‘Man, if I want to eat today, I got to eat this.’”
If the food made him want to move up in the world, football was the vehicle he would use to get there.
“At JC I learned at that level I had to play a little bit harder because when I was in high school, I was pretty much just running by guys,” Qualls said. “I had to work on my moves, because in high school, I was better than the other players.”
West Virginia came calling and had high hopes when he arrived. His first season, he played 12 games, mostly on special teams as a backup linebacker.
“I was playing behind David Long ... so you know how that went,” he said, talking about the man who would become the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 before being drafted into the NFL.
It wasn’t wasted time, though, for he took what he could from Long’s game.
“That was the main dude I was watching,” he explained. “I wanted to do everything he was doing.”
He saw some similarities between the two, but admits “I got a long way to go.” His second season at WVU was cut down by an ACL tear, one of the toughest times of his career.
“I was sad. I was thinking ‘Do I want to still do this?’ But one of my teammates, Brendan Ferns, was right there with me and he kept me going the whole way,” he said.
Meanwhile, head coach Dana Holgorsen left and a new staff was brought in. Among the new assistants was Blake Seiler from Kansas State, the man who had recruited him.
“When he first came here, I didn’t know who he was,” Qualls said of Seiler. “That was a few years ago when I was in high school. He said ‘I recruited you out of high school.’ I said, ‘You did?’ He said ‘Yeah, from K-State.’
“Then I remembered him.”
This season, Qualls has moved from linebacker to defensive end and then to bandit.
“We needed an edge rusher and Qualls was the perfect fit,” Seiler said. “The bandit position needs to be a destructive guy, a guy that has some twitch, got some explosiveness to him. You need a good pass rusher.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.