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Thursday, March 7, 2013
Q&A: Coaches of Arizona DE Cunningham

By Brandon Chatmon

Oklahoma linebackers coach Tim Kish has been a great help to the Sooners' recruiting efforts in the Pac-12 region. Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton defensive end Qualen Cunningham is another example of a player who might not have been on the Sooners radar without Kish. Hamilton head coach Steve Belles took a few minutes to chat with SoonerNation about Cunningham’s best assets, areas of improvement and overall competitiveness.

SoonerNation: At one point did you realize Cunningham was a special player?

Steve Belles: His freshman year. He was a man among boys. His dad (Rick Cunningham) played in the pros for the Cardinals and played in college, so he has good bloodlines.

SN: What’s one thing that will help him in college?

Belles: He’s a great leader. That’s an attribute that’s hard to come by. Sometimes kids in high school get that ego, but he’s all about the team.

SN: How is his competitive nature?

Belles: He’s very competitive. He does not like to lose, he likes to succeed and pays the price in the weight room.

SN: How is he handling the attention?

Belles: He’s very humble; he doesn’t boost about it, just goes about his day.

SN: What schools have been coming by to see him, contacting him the most?

Belles: I’ve been surprised how much A&M has been around. Of course, that’s where his dad went (Rick Cunningham played at Texas A&M). Oklahoma is all over it and the two Arizona schools have done a good job with it.

SN: Which coach is recruiting him for Oklahoma?

Belles: Coach (Tim) Kish.

SN: Where does his love for the game and will to be great come from?

Belles: He loves to play the game. He’s one of those kids who enjoys going out to practice, which I can’t say every kid does. He loves to motivate kids to another level with his excitement for the game.

SoonerNation also had the opportunity to talk to Pat Quinn, Cunningham’s defensive line coach at Hamilton.

SN: What might separate him when he gets to college?

Quinn: First of all, Q is really young for his age. He’s going to be a senior but, age-wise, he’ll be a [17-year old] junior. He’s mature beyond his age. He’s a physical specimen; he has all the tools. He’s huge, he’s intense, he’s real vocal, a great leader, he puts a lot of energy in practice and workouts. He’s special.

SN: Do you remember when you started to realize how special he was?

Quinn: We pulled him up sophomore year and the one thing he does really well, he can physically lock out kids, that’s what I’ll never forget. Here’s a 15-year old kid playing defensive line for us in big games and he would lock kids out, drive them back and throw them on the ground. He is, by far, the most naturally gifted, strength-wise, kid I’ve ever coached. Then you put the intensity behind it, it blows my mind.

SN: What does he need to improve?

Quinn: Flexibility. I talk to him every day about it. He’s grown so much I think he’s forgotten the importance of flexibility and I think that kind of limits motion. I tell him how important it is to stretch when he’s sitting around watching TV because that’s definitely going to limit his motion. I told his dad yoga would be the best investment for him over the next year.

SN: Where does he fall in terms of competitiveness?

Quinn: Q is the most competitive player on our team, by far. I wouldn’t even say the gap is close. I don’t care if it’s a drill -- he’s full go in everything he does. That’s the No. 1 thing that kid brings to the table.

SN: Where does his will and focus come from?

Quinn: His dad. His father played at Texas A&M and in the NFL and they have a really good relationship. Rick is real down to earth and he tells Q the truth. I think it starts there. Q basically gets to know first hand about the next level, what the expectations are. His knowledge of expectations are a little bit higher than most because of what his father tells him.