NASSAU, Bahamas — The most impressive part of Quentin Poling’s game can’t be seen.
For the last four years, the middle linebacker spot has never been a concern for Ohio. Over 49 games, No. 32 has dazzled with his run-stopping ability, pass coverage and uncanny ability to be in the right spot at the right time.
But perhaps what is most impressive about him is the knowledge of the game he brings to the field each week.
With him in the lineup, the Bobcats are one of the best run defenses in the country. Without him — well, they don’t want to think about that until they have to.
“I say he’s an all-conference quarterback for us on defense, that’s probably a pretty good description of him,” defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow said. “He just does a great job stopping the run, and in his pass coverage, and his blitzing. He’s the total package.”
Earlier this month, Poling was named to his second consecutive Mid-American Conference First Team. But numbers are just where Poling begins to jump off the page.
He is the all-time leader in solo tackles and tackles for loss with 219 and 45, respectively. He has seven interceptions and 370 career tackles. He’s also tied for the school record in sacks and interceptions in a single game (three).
He’s anchored a defense that’s been among the nation’s best the last two years, ranking at the top of the rush yards allowed list in the last two seasons.
Quite simply, you can’t replace Poling. You just hope to mitigate whatever loss will happen when he’s gone.
“He’s the captain of our defense, really, so he’s pretty much the quarterback out there,” linebacker Evan Croutch said. “He’s gotta lead, always making checks and calls, we always know he’s usually right 99 percent of the time. So go off him.”
That intelligence has taught Crouch, a redshirt junior, and the other defenders, who know just how special of a football player Poling is.
“Being around him, all that stuff can rub off on you,” Croutch continued. “The communication he does out there, being on top of everything, film study with him, he can get you ready for those type of situations.”
Poling, who brought the film sessions up on his own, was recently named to the 2017 Academic All-MAC Team too.
After Thursday practices, Poling would gather whatever defenders could attend and do a film study of the upcoming opponent.
“It wasn’t anything mandatory,” Poling said. “It meant a lot as a defense to see that everyone was willing to put in a little extra effort.”
Those film sessions are one of the reasons that he has a shot to play professionally — other linebackers all around the country can run, tackle and defend, but few know the game as well as Poling does. In fact, few have shown the ability to lead a defense like Poling has.
“Just his intelligence on the football field,” Burrow said of what he’ll tell NFL scouts. “There’s a lot of guys that can run fast and play physical, but he adds that extra dimension of just really being a smart football player. When he gets on the boards with the pro scouts and does those type things, he’ll be impressive.”
Poling will play in The Collegiate Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 20, but not before some well-deserved rest. After battling a hip injury this season and a knee injury earlier in his career, Poling will take some time to recuperate and visit family after the season.
Then, he’ll begin to prep for the next step in his career.
“The body definitely feels like it’s been four years,” Poling said with a laugh. “Just being able to think about all the different games I’ve played at all the different locations, not only but to play but to start in those games. It’s felt like a long career — and it has been — but it’s been a good one.”
He’s fully healthy now, and should be long-term; when he wasn’t, it was a scary time for the Bobcats.
In 2015, Poling left the game against Western Michigan with a hip injury. The Broncos rushed for 401 yards in the second half alone en route to a 49-14 Bobcats loss. The following two weeks, Ohio lost twice and allowed 103 points in the two games.
Not coincidentally, in Poling’s first game back, Ohio shut out Kent State 27-0.
"He has been tremendous at being a leader and a player,” coach Frank Solich said. “He is a bright guy and loves the game, and both of those show during practice and in the game. He is very attentive in meetings; he took our defense and organized some meetings for them during game weeks to watch film on their own. He is as good as it gets in that area.”
Both Poling and outside linebacker Chad Moore, who are roommates and good friends, have had a big part in the success of the Bobcats defense the last two seasons anchoring the front seven.
The two, who are also roommates on road trips, combined for 176 tackles this season. As senior leaders, the two kept practices light but focused for the entirety of the season.
“You’ve got some great senior leadership there with Chad Moore, also,” Burrow said. “They’ve taken some guys under their wings and showed them the way.”
But as Ohio prepares to face UAB in the Bahamas Bowl on Friday, the light will once again shine on Poling. Blazers running back Spencer Brown is one of the nation’s best freshman and one of the best running backs in Conference USA, and Poling and the Bobcats' front seven will be tasked with stopping him.
For one final time — the 50th time in green and white — Poling will be the star of the show for an Ohio defense that wouldn’t be the same without him.
“He has let me have fun in the game as well,” Solich said. “He will not let me coach while he's here and not have any fun, so he's been good for me. It will be tough to see him go."