Quinn Meinerz: One Thing Leads to Another

Chronicling the superhuman lifts of college football’s best athletes is a burgeoning field of cinematic extravagance. Last season, we got the legendary Tristan Wirfs 450-pound hang clean from Iowa’s strength and conditioning staff, complete with close-up wrapping shots. 2021 NFL Draft prospect Rondale Moore put up a 600-pound squat as a freshman to blaring music and celebratory whistles; Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts did the same.

Wisconsin-Whitewater offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz’s workout video looks a little bit different.

No speed ramping, no overlays, no cameraman—just a kid and his GoPro. Instead, there were logs, a logging road, propane canisters, and a weight rack Meinerz had strapped down in his truck on the 11-hour drive from Hartford, Wisconsin to Hector Lake in Kenora, Ontario. This is where Meinerz spent every summer with his father and his siblings—his great-uncle’s fly fishing camp. Once Meinerz entered college and was tasked with remaining conditioned during the summer, he had to get creative with his workouts. Coming into the 2019 season, Meinerz—a rising junior and eventual team captain—wanted to make a video to show the team how much work he’d put in during the offseason. And just how much fun he’d had doing it.

The most important part? The song choice.

“I tried multiple songs with the video,” Meinerz said, opening a list saved on his phone. “I had the classic Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi. Jumps by Van Halen. One that almost made it was The Stroke by Billy Squier, which is kinda a funny song.” 

But Meinerz eventually landed on One Thing Leads to Another by The Fixx—a song released 15 years before Meinerz was born—because it just “fit really well.”

It does fit really well: both for Meinerz’s lumberjack workout montage and for Meinerz’s sudden explosion into the national spotlight. A little-known Division III offensive lineman entering the Senior Bowl, Meinerz turned more heads in Mobile, Alabama than perhaps any other 2021 attendee—both for his on-field play and off-field demeanor.

While the Senior Bowl was a silver bullet for Meinerz’s visibility in the 2021 NFL Draft cycle, the NFL has had eyes on Meinerz for years prior. When scouts visited Wisconsin-Whitewater in the 2018 season to watch senior offensive lineman and NFL hopeful Nate Trewyn, they grabbed the Warhawks’ coaching staff and demanded to know who “big number 77” was on the offensive line beside Trewyn. It was Meinerz, in his first season of starting at left guard. NFL scouts returned to Whitewater for Meinerz’s junior day workout, just weeks before the facilities were shut down due to COVID-19: Meinerz ran a 5.19s 40-yard dash in tennis shoes. The day before, he had to ask the track and field coach to teach him how to get into a sprinter’s stance at the line.

Up until that day, Meinerz had been content to just play his four years of college football and fight for a Stagg Bowl win—the Division III National Title. Wisconsin-Whitewater had lost in the semifinals to Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2018, then in the championship to North Central in 2019. But when scouts from the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers showed up in Whitewater to watch him workout, Meinerz came to realize something most of his eventual compatriots in Mobile had known for several years: he had a chance to make it to the NFL.

Meinerz oriented himself on the professional approach. He hadn’t attended to his weight or body composition much before; for the next five months, he’d eat chicken, spinach, and rice for every dinner until he got his weight down to an acceptable level. Only then did he switch ground beef for chicken.

The new vision went beyond the diet. Meinerz took quarantine as an opportunity to learn how to play center—a position he’d never played at the high school or college level—to demonstrate positional flexibility to the league. He had to learn a new stance—centers play with their feet even, while guards have their feet staggered—and how to snap a football. So Meinerz put a couple of trash cans in the backyard, pulled out his trusty GoPro, and started working his angles. Down blocks, pulls, climbs, pass sets—hoping to hear the clang of impact on each one. When Meinerz couldn’t get his snaps right, he called Trewyn, who taught him that centers don’t hold the ball the same way quarterbacks do. Suddenly, the clangs rang out in chorus. When he got really good, he could hit the pizza paddle he’d jerry-rigged onto the can.

Meinerz was ready for a dominant senior season, one that would force the entire NFL to turn their eyes to southern Wisconsin. COVID-19 had other plans. Wisconsin-Whitewater was given a few padded practices in the fall, but eventually saw their 2020 season canceled. For most of the Warhawks’ talented senior class, the hunt for the national championship would have to wait another season; for Meinerz, it was something he’d have to relinquish altogether.

His NFL preparation was already well underway, so Meinerz stayed the course. He went down to the EXOS facility in Frisco, Texas and worked out with Rashawn Slater and Patrick Jones, snapping with renowned offensive line coach Duke Manyweather. He was invited to the College Gridiron Showcase, a lower-level showcase bowl that was holding in-person football activities, and then the NFLPA Bowl and the East/West Shrine Bowl, more prominent bowl games that were exclusively virtual. COVID-19 took his senior season away, but could have also prevented him from taking any meaningful snaps against Division I opponents—a death knell for the stock of a Division III fascination.

Two weeks before the Senior Bowl, he got the invite. It was an opportunity to show the world the new and improved Quinn Meinerz—almost a calendar year after his last snap as a Warhawk—to eliminate the doubt surrounding a prospect from lower levels of competition. The day before the first practice, he got the news from the Miami Dolphins coaching staff: he was earmarked to play center, exclusively, for the first two days of practice.

Meinerz had been preparing for something all summer—this was that something. With one week to prove to the league he belonged, Meinerz spent a late night—how late, he won’t admit—pouring through the Dolphins’ playbook to ensure he could manage the calls from his new spot on the offensive line and continue to play with confidence. 

“My theme coming into practice was being who I am. I wanted to be loud and communicate, be confident in calls. The worst thing you could do would be showing up to practice timid, not ready. At that point, you’re wasting everybody’s time.”

Then came the drills. He took potential first-round defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike for a 10-yard walk and removed Texas defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham from the camera frame. He put Notre Dame’s Adetokunbo Ogundeji in the turf as a run blocker and gave Pitt EDGE Patrick Jones a seat in pass protection. Nobody on the defensive line knew what helmet he was wearing, and none of them knew what hit them, either.

Meinerz knew. From the moment he got his Senior Bowl invite, Meinerz would spend nights in Frisco after workouts going through the film of his upcoming opponents. 

“I was able to go on YouTube and find cut-ups of these guys, defensive line versus offensive line. Mainly to see their strengths, just to see, when it comes to that one-on-one rep, what are they going to try to do? Specifically with Patrick Jones, I was honestly expecting more of a power move from him, so I was thinking to jump-set him. ‘Cause I knew he liked to close distance quick, so I wanted to meet him out there right away. Once he tried to spin back, well, then I got my other hand in. And that was the end of that rep.”

The best part? There aren’t any Quinn Meinerz cut-ups on YouTube; nobody’s been recording Wisconsin-Whitewater games. Suddenly, the Division III disadvantage was turned on its head.

This was Meinerz after an offseason of intentional preparation: weight-watching and snapping to garbage cans. This sudden ascension and immediate dominance begged the question: what could this kid have been with three years in a Power-5 program? If he’d known an NFL future was within his grasp?

We’ll never know. Meinerz had no Division I offers coming out of Hartford High School as a three-sport athlete: football, wrestling, and track. He chose Wisconsin-Whitewater after offensive line coach Brent Allen attended one of his senior wrestling matches—Meinerz pinned his opponent in 40 seconds and later apologized for making Allen come all that way just to see a quick show. He was content to go to a contending Division III school and continue playing the sport he loved.

But the intense preparation of Meinerz’s pre-draft process didn’t happen by accident. It’s been there since the beginning. It wasn’t the 40-second pin that caught Allen’s eye. It was the focus with which Meinerz warmed up; the intensity with which he took the mat; his love of and commitment to the process. That same love of the process brought a frustrated and confused Meinerz to Allen’s office during his freshman season, when he asked Allen why some of his teammates were out drinking when they should have been preparing for games. That same love of the process had Meinerz deadlifting in the forests of Canada in 2019 before he even knew the league was in his grasp. 

From the jump, Meinerz has seen one way to do things: the right way. That’s how everything in his life goes—save for how he wears his jersey.

They called Meinerz “The Gut” in high school and they called him “The Gut” in college—he’s always liked the crop top jersey, complaining that “it gets hot!” during practice in Wisconsin. 

He isn’t the first offensive lineman to “let the belly breathe” during practice, and he certainly won’t be the last. But one thing leads to another, and an obsession with preparation led to dominance at Wisconsin-Whitewater, a sudden NFL rise, and a picture-perfect job interview at the Senior Bowl—capped by an appearance on NFL Network. For Meinerz, ever the low-tech director of the critically-acclaimed “Canada Workout,” he had just one question for the Senior Bowl staff when they pulled him from the field and fitted him with a headset.

“Wait… is this going to be live?”