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From Uniondale to Green Bay, Quarless has come long way

Green Bay Packers tight end Andrew Quarless raises

Green Bay Packers tight end Andrew Quarless raises his arms in celebration after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings. (Oct. 24, 2010) Credit: AP

Andrew Quarless had the same desires as everyone else who's ever donned the black and gold threads of Uniondale High School's football team.

He wanted to see his name on the back of a pro jersey one day, lace up his cleats and trot onto the field on Sundays knowing thousands of eyes soon would be fixated on his every move.

So every now and then during these past six months, there have He's made it, getting a paycheck to play a game he initially fell in love with as a kid. Quarless is only the second graduate of the high school just off Goodrich Street to play in the NFL.

"Actually, it is kind of shocking," he told Newsday. "Sometimes I think about it and it's always been my dream since I was young, playing at 6, 7 years old. Now that I'm here, it's kind of like, 'Wow, I'm here.'

"It's an amazing feeling. I'm on Facebook and I've got all my friends from back home and the neighborhood just encouraging me. It means a lot to me to be from Uniondale and be in the NFL."

Quarless returns to the shadows of his Long Island roots Sunday when the Packers meet the Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium. The 6-4, 252-pounder has overcome his share of off-the-field issues - and received a big boost from legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno - just to get the opportunity to serve as Green Bay's starting tight end today.

Questions about Quarless' maturity and checkered past scared off some teams during the April draft, and he fell all the way to the fifth round despite a wealth of talent that some believed made him good enough to be a second-rounder.

Could they trust a player who admittedly had made some bad choices? And we're not just talking about strikes one and two here.

"It was more," Quarless said, "like three or four strikes."

He was involved in an underage drinking incident that led to a two-game suspension in 2007 and also was arrested for driving while intoxicated after the 2007 season. Paterno, with whom Quarless had a rocky relationship initially, nearly gave him the heave-ho, but he granted him another opportunity.

In September 2008, university police found marijuana in an apartment Quarless was sharing with three other players. Paterno suspended him for a game.

"I really had to sit down and look in the mirror," Quarless said.

But Paterno gave him yet another shot. Quarless stayed out of trouble in his senior season, posting a Penn State single-season record for tight ends with 41 receptions.

"Those things had everything to do with where I'm at right now," said Quarless, who inked a four-year, $1.9-million deal. "I felt like I had to man up quickly. Coming into college, a lot of guys get caught up and are not able to make it out. I got caught up in a couple of things and I had to man up. It definitely put me in a better place. I've learned from my mistakes."

Now he's learning something else - how fast things change in the NFL. When starter Jermichael Finley suffered a season-ending knee injury three weeks ago, it forced Quarless to slide into the driver's seat.

"Jermichael Finley is a great tight end, one of the best," Quarless said. "So it was good to be behind him. When he went down, I was pretty ready just based on a lot of the things I had gone over, and my abilities and some of the things I saw him do. I was just able to combine them together.''

Quarless showed he's capable of stepping into Finley's shoes a week ago, collecting his first career touchdown on a 9-yard reception from quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Packers' 28-24 win over the Vikings.

"Against the Vikings on 'Sunday Night Football,' all eyes on me and it was really just an amazing feeling to just really contribute on my team," he said. "That's really what I was excited about: letting my teammates know and the coaches know that I can contribute. That's what it really was about for me."

"I think when he came in, he was playing a lot slower than he is now," Rodgers said. "I think he was really thinking a lot about our offense, trying to figure out the nuances that we do. He's really done a better job, I think, of studying and understanding our scheme and trying to find his place. He's playing a lot faster. He's making plays for us. He's trying to fill that void left by Jermichael and I think he's done very admirably in that role."

Quarless caught the eyes of the Jets' defense during video study throughout the week.

"He's athletic," linebacker Bart Scott said, "and they are going to try to get the ball to him. He's a good player."

And living in a city that seems as if it's light years away from Nassau County.

Quarless wasn't in total cultural shock when he first arrived in Green Bay, which has less than 150,000 residents - much smaller than Nassau County's estimated population of 1.35 million. He did, after all, live in Happy Valley, Pa. But he still has that New Yorker's mentality when behind the wheel.

"The drivers out here are killing me because they are doing the speed limit," he said with a laugh. "It's a lot slower, but I think it's definitely a better place for me. I don't think I need to be in the city. I'd rather be in a slow place like this because I save a lot of money too. So I'm happy."

And nothing will be able to wipe the beaming smile off the native Long Islander's face today, especially when he looks up into the stands and sees his own personal cheering section - rooting against the team that used to train a good Hail Mary down Uniondale Avenue.

"This is my homecoming," Quarless said. "I got ticket requests out the ying-yang. I've got probably about 30, 50 tickets that I had to get. It doesn't matter. It's just really about my homecoming. I grew up on the Jets. They used to practice there at Hofstra and I used to go to some of their training camps when I was younger.

"So I grew up on them and it's hard to really explain what it's going to be like going out there in front of my home crowd - or their home crowd. I like to call it my home crowd too, because that's just where I'm from. But I just can't wait."

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