Davien Kuinlan was always a running back in disguise, even while he excelled as Plainedge’s Thorp Award-winning quarterback last fall on a Nassau Class III championship team.
“Growing up I was a running back, so my reads and stuff, it’s kind of instinct,” Kuinlan said Saturday after a practice session at Hofstra in preparation for the 21st Empire Challenge between the Long Island and New York City all-stars that will be played at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium beginning at 7 p.m.
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But Kuinlan switched to quarterback to help his team and had a historic senior season, setting Nassau rushing records in a single game (485), for a season (2,781) and a career (6,894) while also scoring a county record 40 rushing touchdowns. So while he improved his passing to the point where he threw for 1,355 yards and 12 touchdowns, it wasn’t much of a switch for him to be a running back in this year’s Empire Challenge. And it’s no surprise that Division I Wagner College recruited him as a running back.
“I feel like it has been home for me,” Kuinlan said. “Quarterback was great and I worked as hard on it as I worked on running back. A couple of schools wanted me as a quarterback, but I felt comfortable at Wagner and they made it easier for me as a running back.”
Kuinlan has been impressive in a variety of roles for a Long Island team that has won the last five Empire Challenges. “He’s the best all-around back we have, as far as running inside, outside, blocking and understanding the game,” running backs coach Rob Blount (Oceanside) said.
Blount, whose team plays in Nassau I, had never seen Kuinlan (Nassau III) in person, and was impressed by more than his myriad skills. “I didn’t realize how thick he was, seeing him on film,” Blount said of the 6-1, 215-pounder. “On our first day in pads [Friday], on our first inside run, he lowered his shoulder on the linebacker and ran right over him.”
Kuinlan also showed a latent talent. “He’s done a good job catching the ball out of the backfield,” Blount said. “He’s got some deceiving speed.”
Kuinlan laughed when asked about his pass-catching skills. “That’s something that if the coaches want, I’ll do it,” he said. “I work on my receiving skills a lot. I work on everything. I just try to do it all.”
With Longwood’s Khalil Owens out of Tuesday’s game because of an injury, Kuinlan can expect an expanded role, something he was used to as a busy running quarterback for Plainedge, where he touched the ball on every offensive play. “It’s been an easy transition,” Kuinlan said. “Playing with these offensive linemen, all of them great players, makes it easy.”