Division III star Quinn Meinerz prepared for NFL draft in Canada wilderness, learned center in backyard

Between the past several college football seasons, on an unnamed island in Canada, Quinn Meinerz molded himself from a kid from Hartford, Wisconsin, into an NFL prospect.

After finishing final exams at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he would load about 360 pounds of weights into the back of his truck and drive more than 12 hours to his uncle Tim Meinerz's business, Hector Lake Fly In Fishing Camp in Alberta.

When he wasn’t working at the camp, Meinerz would stay in shape by bench pressing outdoors on the island, using trees as defensive linemen, lugging giant gas tanks around the camp and squatting piles of wood.  

“There’s no air conditioning,” Meinerz said, "the water that I’m drinking is straight out of the lake."

UW-Whitewater offensive line coach Brent Allen called Meinerz – listed at 6-3, 320 pounds – a “giant man” but his offseason routine would shrink him a bit.  

“He would come back in the 270s, 280s because it’s hard to get calories up there,” Allen said. “He’d come back chiseled and he’d have to figure out a way to put on good weight in the last couple weeks before the season to get back up to a more natural playing weight.” 

OL Quinn Meinerz of Wisconsin-Whitewater (71) practices during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., in January. (Photo: Associated Press)

Meinerz first got the attention of NFL scouts during his sophomore year in 2018 when they came to see fellow offensive lineman Nate Trewyn work out. 

“Some of the NFL scouts, although they really liked Nate Trewyn, were kind of starting to ask questions like ‘Hey, who’s big ol' 77 over there?’ ” Allen said. 

Trewyn wasn't drafted in 2019 but signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then later with the Los Angeles Rams.  

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Despite the attention, Meinerz didn’t seriously think he could play in the NFL until February 2020, when scouts from the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears came to check him out. 

“That was the first time I heard my name associated with the NFL,” Meinerz said. “I took it very seriously once that happened. I changed a lot of things in my life, my diet, the way I eat, the way I’m training and stuff like that. … I was able to realize that I was able to belong.” 

This year, Meinerz is working out at NX Level in Waukesha and hoping to be the first Warhawk drafted since wide receiver Derek Stanley was picked by the then-St. Louis Rams in the seventh round in 2007.

On Tuesday, Meinerz will get his chance to show he has the potential to play at the next level when NFL teams travel to Whitewater's pro day. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone in sports, but it’s made Meinerz's path to the NFL incredibly difficult. Unlike many Division I programs, Whitewater did not have a football season. On top of that, Meinerz knew if he was going to be drafted, he’ll likely have to play center – which meant learning a new position with no live games. 

“I kind of learned center in the backyard,” Meinerz said. 

Meinerz would film himself going through the entire Warhawks playbook at center with a target board behind him so he could work on his snaps. He’d then upload that video to YouTube and send it to his coaches.  

“The snapping part, if you’re not getting a lot of reps, that can be a challenge for guys,” Allen said. “He was doing the YouTube stuff in the backyard and working on snapping, I would guess, every day. Because we were getting new YouTube links a lot.” 

Whitewater did have padded practices, and Allen said having Meinerz practice with his teammates not only helped him get a feel for the position but also helped others in the locker room. 

“Having Quinn back was awesome," Allen said, "it kind of sparked the room.”  

Time at Whitewater  

The reality of playing college sports at the Division III level is that the dream of making it to the pros is likely over. 

“You’re not here to go to the NFL, you’re here to get a great college degree,” Allen said. “We’re not an NFL factory or anything like that.” 

Coming out of Hartford High School as a two-sport athlete in football and wrestling, Meinerz was basically unrecruited despite earning honorable mention all-state at defensive and offensive lines. He got the attention of only St. Cloud State (Minnesota) and UW-La Crosse.  

Aaron Rusch, a former Warhawks football player and coach for Hartford, tipped off Whitewater about a kid who was going unnoticed. 

Allen watched Meinerz dominate his wrestling opponent and thought, “I think we got something here.”

He then convinced Meinerz to come to Whitewater.   

“The guy has not done anything wrong, even the smallest thing, since the day he’s gotten on this campus,” Allen said. “He’s early at every meeting. He’s a meticulous note taker. He works his butt off in the weigh room. He practices super hard. You won’t find him taking a play off.” 

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawk Quinn Meinerz (77) blocks in a game against Wartburg College Knights. Meinerz is hoping to be drafted in the NFL. (Photo: UW-Whitewater)

The first two years were difficult for Meinerz, not on the field but off.

“Some of the typical extracurricular stuff that all college kids take part in, were not an interest to him,” Allen said. “He kind of fought the normal college after-school activities, in a good way. And that’s part of the reason why he is the way he is … he never really got into that stuff.” 

Allen encouraged Meinerz to approach guys on the team who had similar interests. Eventually Meinerz became the leader of the offensive line.  

“Once you win that group, it’s a big group in any football team,” Allen said. “You have a really good starting point to be a leader for the team once you get that room believing in you.” 

Meinerz continued at Whitewater, and in his junior year made a speech to the team asking to make him a captain.  

“You could trust what he was saying, he meant," Allen said. "He wasn’t just a good orator. He wasn’t just up there to give a good speech. He was actually saying things that he truly believed in and obviously the guys got behind that.” 

Meinerz was elected captain and helped lead the Warhawks to a 13-2 record in 2019, but Whitewater lost, 41-14, in the national championship game to North Central College. 

Offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz of Wisconsin -Whitewater (with football) gets set at the line during practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium. (Photo: Vasha Hunt / USA TODAY Sports)

Senior Bowl fame  

Despite having the 2020 season canceled, Meinerz received an invitation to the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, in January to go up against some of the top talent nationally in his class.  

“Initially, the first couple days there, no one really knew who I was,” Meinerz said. "A lot of those guys were talking amongst themselves because they play against each other or knew each other through social media.

“I kind of felt like one of those guys where not really a lot of people wanted to talk to me.” 

Meinerz said no one was talking trash to him, they were more curious about who he was and where he was from.  

But it didn’t take long for them to recognize Meinerz’s potential.  

“On the first day, I was going against a defensive lineman that I didn’t realize at the time, was projected in some mock drafts to go in the first round,” Meinerz said. “I was able to throw him around a little bit.” 

“This is kind of getting borderline ridiculous what he is doing up front this week.” 😤@MoveTheSticks checks out @UWWAthletics’ @QMeinerz at Day 2 of practice at the Reese’s @seniorbowl 👇 pic.twitter.com/fa1y443kmd

After pancaking UCLA’s Osa Odighizuwa during the second day, players and staff started opening up to him.  

“They were accepting me a little more, I was in more conversations, people wanted to hear what I had to say,” Meinerz said. “I started earning respect very quickly among my peers on my team, on the other team, and that was cool to have that happen because respect is earned, not just given.”

Meinerz also got national attention for being unafraid to show himself off. When pictures of him sporting a crop-top jersey appeared online, football fans were loving him.  

But for Meinerz, pulling the jersey up and exposing his belly during practice is something he’s been doing since he was playing in Hartford, earning the nickname “The Gut.” 

“It gets hot in August,” Meinerz said. “So I always let the belly breathe. It was very odd to have the media react the way they did because it’s just something I’ve always done. And it’s kind of cool to represent the big guys, Division III big guys.” 

Allen cautioned anyone questioning Meinerz’s gut. 

“There’s not much body fat there,” Allen said, adding Meinerz is more athletic than he looks. 

“He’s unnaturally quick for how big he is. The difference between being a big offensive lineman and a really good, really talented offensive lineman is going to be that athleticism.” 

Heavy skill 🚀 pic.twitter.com/lFt2p5t8hh

During interviews with NFL teams, Meinerz said they wanted to know about his background.  

“I had to explain my parents' divorce 32 times,” Meinerz said with a laugh. “With every 15-minute interview, I would say half of the time was describing my parents' divorce. Which doesn’t bother me but it was one of those things where it was like constantly have to talk about the same thing.” 

Later in the week leading up to the game, Meinerz broke his hand, which he said was the most serious injury he’s suffered.  

The injury sidelined him for the majority of the game, but Meinerz pleaded with the training staff and Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores to get in during the final two "victory" plays.  

“I got my two snaps in the game,” Meinerz said. “I fought really hard for those reps. … It was cool to have some of the pictures where you see me at center and I got two Notre Dame guys next to me.” 

After the game, players traded helmet decals and Meinerz said he was one of the first to run out.  

“Everybody wanted a Hawk (decal),” Meinerz said.

Heading into the Senior Bowl, Meinerz said, he was projected to be a seventh-round pick or possibly go undrafted.  

“But after the week that I’ve had, I think I’ve been able to climb (draft) boards and become a day-two person,” he said. “But now to solidify that, I really have to show up at a pro day.” 

Meinerz hopes NFL teams saw his “unlimited fire” for football, which he said he’s always had but gives credit to Whitewater for nurturing it.  

“You really love the game,” Meinerz said. “These guys that are on the football team at Whitewater really just love the game of football. And I think that’s a huge part of going into the NFL is you really have to love the game.

"And I think that’s something I already have because I went to a smaller school and I’m doing the same exact work that a Division I player is doing.”

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