West Hempstead, New York’s Quinn Early was a standout wide out at the University of Iowa. The college star then forged a long career as a pro. As a 12- year NFL veteran, Early suited up for the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. During his decade plus in the National Football League, he caught over 500 passes for more than 6,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
In what could only be described as his second incredibly physical career, Early has become a very successful stuntman in the entertainment industry, doubling for A-List actors such as Will Smith (Bright), Shemar Moore (S.W.A.T.) and numerous others. He has credits in over 40 motion pictures and television series.
Early is also a lifelong martial artist, practicing for over 30 years in Choy Li Fut Kung Fu and other arts. He has earned his black belt and coached, taught and developed a number of black belts himself during his time at White Dragon Martial Arts in San Diego, California.
We caught up to him to chat about his 1989 Score rookie card, his childhood bedroom, his martial arts journey and hanging out of the back of a truck firing a machine gun.
Tony Reid–You were a high school and college star and played in the NFL from 1988-1999. When was the first time you were asked for your autograph?
Quinn Early-At the time I was being recruited by several colleges and I was actually on my trip to Iowa. We went to one of the basketball games. They introduced the recruits and a bunch of people came around. One of the kids asked me for my autograph. I had never practiced doing an autograph. I’m sure it looks nothing like what my signature looks like now. I signed it and I thought it was pretty cool. It was awesome.
QE-I don’t know. I just practiced it. Being an artist, that’s what I got my degree in, I just knew I wanted something different. I worked on it and came up with it pretty quickly and that has just been my signature ever since.
TR–1989 Score is your true rookie card. The image shows you coming off the line, ready to run your route. Do you remember seeing yourself on a trading card for the first time?
QE- Yeah. That was the first one I saw. I just thought it was so cool! That was the first one and it was pretty awesome, for sure.
TR–Trading card companies would generally send the players’ stacks of cards back in the day. Did you manage to hold on to your cards or cards of any other players over the years?
QE-Oh, yeah. I was fortunate enough to be on a lot of cards. Every time a new card of me came out they would send me a big box of them, so I still have plenty of football cards left.
TR–Did you collect anything as a kid, sports card or otherwise?
QE-I didn’t collect cards but I was pretty much the only one in my family that was a huge football fan. I was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I had a subscription to a college football magazine and I had a subscription to an NFL magazine. What I would do was I would cut out the pictures and put the college pictures on the wall to the right of me and I would put the NFL pictures to the wall on the left of me. I would always tell myself first I am going here (to the college pictures) and them I am going here (the NFL pictures). That was my mantra. That was going on since I was 13 years old.
QE- Athletically, growing up as a Steelers fan, I loved Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Even though I didn’t care for the team that much, I liked Drew Pearson. I liked those guys. That was my sport. I loved it.
TR–You are an artist and a martial artist. How did your martial arts journey begin?
QE-As a kid, I was a huge Bruce Lee fan, like many kids were in that generation. They had a Bruce Lee film festival. She would drop me off at nine in the morning and pick me up at five in the afternoon. I would just watch Bruce Lee movies all day. I did karate as a kid. I am pretty much a lifelong martial artist.
When I was in college I didn’t have time for it. I was in school or I was with the team. When I got drafted in the NFL during the offseason after my rookie year I once again had the time. I did some research. I knew I wanted to do Kung Fu. I went down to White Dragon Marital Arts in San Diego. I joined the school. I remember thinking to myself that I was going to be the man in here in about six months. Nothing could be farther from the truth. My teacher who was about 5’6” and 140 pounds and he was just throwing me all over the place. Kung Fu is made for a smaller person. Here I am, 6’2” and 200 pounds. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I still feel like a beginner even though I have been doing Kung Fu for, well, I just celebrated my 30th anniversary at White Dragon Martial Arts this past March. Then I became a teacher and I have raised a lot of black belts. It’s been awesome. It is the best thing I have ever done. It’s Kung Fu and I also teach Tai Chi.
TR–Another very interesting part of your journey involves you being a stuntman in a number of films. How did you end up in the role?
-My best friend from college Bill Perkins, is a former teammate of mine. He has done really well in business. He’s worked on Wall Street. He’s a hedge fund manager. If you google him, he’s everywhere. His passion was movie making. Well, he called me and said “Come be in my movie this weekend.’ I flew to Louisiana. The next thing I know I am hanging out of the back of a truck shooting a machine gun. And then they paid me for it. I was like ‘Are you serious?’ I became friends with the stunt coordinator and I asked him how I could do it for real. He gave me the blueprint and I just started hustling and trying to get into that industry. Ten years later, I work all the time. It was a good transition and a lot of fun and I really enjoy it.