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From his hometown so tiny it’s not even a town, to his willingness to kiss a real-life dolphin, Quentin Poling might have taken the prize as the most unique member of the Dolphins’ 2018 draft class.
But those facts should not overshadow the fact that Poling comes to South Florida with some might impressive on-field credentials.
The product of Gomer, Ohio, an unincorporated community whose 2016 population was estimated at 102 — yes, 102 — was a star at Ohio University in the same Mid-American Conference that gave the Dolphins five-time Pro Bowl selection John Offerdahl some 30 years ago.
Poling was enough of a playmaker at Ohio U. that during his time there he tied the school’s single-game record for sacks and interceptions, recording three interceptions against Akron as a freshman and three sacks against Toledo as a senior.
Poling was the only MAC linebacker selected in the 2018 draft, and there’s a simple reason he’s confident he can successfully make the jump to the NFL.
“Just knowing that I’m going to prepare to do it,” he said. “Preparation and knowing what you’re doing will allow you to make up a lot of the game-speed type things. You can’t play fast if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just hitting the books a little harder than everyone else is and trying to learn my position and the whole defense and everything.”
“I know I’m going to prepare and give my best effort. If I doubt myself and my best effort, then I probably wouldn’t have even come here.”
Poling’s stellar collegiate career, which saw become the school’s all-time leader in solo tackles and tackles for loss, ended with a victory against Alabama-Birmingham in the 2017 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
It was there that Poling had his encounter with a dolphin, a scene he documented on his Twitter feed.
“At the Bahamas Bowl, they had an event where our captains and UAB’s captains did a swim with the dolphins event,” Poling explained. “The guy, the trainer was … He was making us each give the dolphin a kiss on the head and give it a fish. He told two to three guys prior that we could … He was like, ‘You can kiss the dolphin.’ And they’re like, ‘No way. No way.’ I was like, ‘I’ll do it.’ I’m not above that.”
The dolphin story pales in comparison to his growing up in Gomer, a topic that dominated Poling’s rookie minicamp press session.
“It’s a classic town set up with a T — two roads, road, road,” Poling said. “So this road, probably pretty good, well known. This road … (laughter).”
Poling explained that, yes, most of the folks in Gomer have televisions but, no, he’s not a celebrity in that community. In fact, Poling said probably a third of the Gomer population doesn’t know who he is.
Poling played at neary Elida High School because Gomer doesn’t have a high school — “I go to high school not in that settlement. It’s not big enough to even be called a village.”
In case anyone is concerned about Poling and playing on the big stage of Hard Rock Stadium, he pointed out he played at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium (capacity 102,455) as a junior in 2016.
Oh, and he had that day a game-high 14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. It was one of Poling’s 13 college games with 10 or more tackles.
“Kind of playing the position I was at Ohio, that middle linebacker, being in the middle, you have an opportunity on most plays to make a play,” Poling said. “When you’re stuck to one side of the field, teams can go away from you a little more. When you’re in the middle, teams can’t just avoid the middle of the field the entire time.”
Poling made plays for Ohio in every kind of way, whether it was in pass coverage or as a blitzer.
He was so valuable, in fact, that his coaches kept him from playing special teams because they needed him on defense. As he prepares to start his NFL career, Poling knows he’ll probably be asked to play special teams.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Special teams are a lot of fun. It wasn’t something that I was asked to do in college, because I took so many reps on defense and coaches didn’t want me to potentially get hurt. It’s a third of the game and it’s exciting. It’s man-on-man, who’s the better athlete, who’s going to beat who. In terms of that aspect, just going up against someone and competing, I don’t think there’s any more true form than special teams.
“Kind of going through the draft process and taking visits everywhere and meeting with coaches it’s kind of, ‘Hey, this is going to be your foot in the gateway. You’ve got to be good on special teams. You’ve got to make those teams, be starting on those teams and develop your game as a linebacker.’ ”
Poling is looking forward to the challenge. He’s already come a long way from Gomer, Ohio, and that’s just part of his continuing journey.