By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Back home in Greenville, Mississippi, they called him “Hot Sauce.”
Like a lot of freshmen away from home for the first time, Quentin Groves almost called it quits soon after arriving at Auburn in 2003. Homesick. Discouraged. Pep talks from team leaders, academic counselor Troy Smith and chaplain Chette Williams convinced him to stay.
“That was a great decision for him,” said Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams, one of those teammates who encouraged Groves to hang in there.
The result? Twenty-six quarterback sacks from 2004-07, an Auburn record Groves shares with Gerald Robinson.
Groves’ football legacy, while significant, pales in comparison to his impact off the field.
It includes his wife, Treska Baptiste, whom Quentin met while they both student-athletes at Auburn, their two children, and friendships with dozens of former teammates who fondly remember him.
Groves died in his sleep Saturday of a heart attack in Treska’s homeland of Trinidad. He was 32.
“Just a person who absolutely loved his teammates. Do anything for his teammates. Cared about people,” Williams said.
“He was an awesome teammate,” said former Auburn defensive back Jerraud Powers. “Always upbeat. Always had a positive mind about everything. I don’t think he ever had a bad day. Just one of those guys who was happy all of the time. Joked a lot. He lived life to the fullest. Always in good spirits.”
“Just a great man. He’s definitely going to be missed,” said Tommy Jackson, who teamed with Groves on Auburn’s defensive line in 2004-05. “Very enthusiastic about life. One of the biggest hearts of a person you’ll ever meet. That’s the thing I love about Quentin. He never judged people.
“I’m going to miss that man. We don’t have enough people like that anymore. I’m sad. I’m sad for Treska. I’m sad for his kids. I wish I could just tell him again how much I appreciate him.”
”A JOY TO PLAY WITH”
After redshirting in 2003, Groves demonstrated his pass rushing prowess as a freshman in 2004, tying Auburn’s single-game record with four sacks against Kentucky.
“The Good Lord blessed him with unbelievable talent,” Williams said. “That first step, just coming off the edge.”
It was not only on the football field where Groves showcased that speed.
“He used to always try to race the DBs,” Williams said “He thought he was the fastest guy on the team. I always remember him and Patrick Lee and Kevin Hobbs racing each other. We’d go over to the track across the street. They would race and he would be beating most of them. Just a great athlete.
“He was a guy who just loved to compete. He was a joy to play with.”
In a few short years, Groves grew from a homesick freshman to a welcoming upperclassman.
“When I got to Auburn, he was already there,” Powers said. “He embraced me and my whole freshman class. He made us feel a part of the Auburn family as soon as we touched down on campus.”
For a defensive back such as Powers, there was no more valuable teammate than Groves, who made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
“He was probably one of the most feared pass rushers in college football during that time,” Powers said. “To have him on the edge, with that shield on, and those dreads hanging out of the helmet and that big smile on his face. Just having fun out there. It was always a blessing to have guys like that on your team.”
Jackson lined up next to Groves for two seasons.
“Quentin had the best get-off of any player I’ve ever seen,” Jackson said. “I’ve never seen a guy as a defensive end who had the running ability of a skill guy. He had the athleticism of a skill guy. That’s what made him unique as a player. Being able to beat the tackle. Beat him on the edge with a speed rush.
Quentin could easily take speed to power. That’s what made him so dynamic. Auburn’s all-time leader in sacks. That will always speak for itself. He wasn’t just a pass rusher. The guy was a smart football player. He’ll go down as one of the greats.”
”HIS HEART WAS ALWAYS ON PEOPLE”
After playing seven seasons in the NFL, Groves aspired to become a coach, returning to Auburn before the 2016 season to learn more about the profession. He also wanted to expand football’s popularity in Trinidad.
“He grew to love the place and had a special place in his heart for Trinidad,” Williams said. “He loved people so much. He said, ‘There are so many athletes over here. They run track, but if they could just get introduced to football, it could help a lot of these kids.’
“He was always thinking about people and not thinking about himself. That’s where his heart was. His heart was always on people. That’s the type of guy he was.”
Powers wants people to remember Groves as a husband and father.
“What he did on the football field speaks volumes,” Powers said. “He’ll be an all-time great at Auburn for sure. The type of guy he was off the field was even greater. It’s a terrible loss.”
Groves remained close with many of his former teammates, exchanging group text messages on what would be his final day. He often sent encouraging words to Williams before games.
“He said, ‘War Eagle, brother. I really like that little linebacker, number 57.’ I said, ‘Yeah, he’s a football player.’ He just loved Auburn football,” Williams said. “He just loved linebacker play and defensive end play. I showed Deshaun (Davis) the text Sunday. All of the guys knew Quentin. He came and talked to the defensive line. He’s an easy person to like. We definitely miss him.
“He really took pride in being the sack leader,” Williams said. “He really enjoyed that. He earned it. Just all-around great person who loved Auburn. He’s an Auburn man through and through.”
— Coach T-Will (@T_WILL4REAL) October 18, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer