Quae Drake: Path To The NFL Draft

By Simon Carroll

Football is a game of faith. Faith in a higher being, faith in your coaches to put you in a position to succeed. Faith in your teammates to execute. But most of all, faith in your own ability to play at a high level.

The notion of ‘betting on yourself’ is easy to say, less easy to do. When adversity comes at you, it takes a special kind of mindset to find the path that allows you to prove yourself – a path that isn’t always easy, or understandable to others. And nobody has forged a path quite like Quae Drake. The Jacksonville State linebacker sat down with Simon Carroll to discuss his path to the NFL Draft:

Early Football Life

As far as small towns go, Wadley is one of the smallest of them all. Home to just 659 people at the last time of counting, the Alabama outpost is where Taquavian ‘Quae’ Drake was born and raised. And considering it sits almost perfectly between the major football hotbeds of Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Atlanta, it was unsurprising to learn that Drake picked up the sport from a young age:

“Growing up, I began by playing peewee football – my dad started playing football with me at five years old. So I grew a love for the game very early in my life. When it got serious, I first played Junior Varsity – but because the school was so small I only played five games at that level before I was moved up to varsity! I think I graduated with like 45 people, which tells you how small the town and school was. It was a 1A football school – the smallest division in Alabama. And me being one of the biggest, if not the biggest guy in the school, I was kinda fast tracked on the football field.”

School life and football life were one and the same for Drake. And through the years, his role developed as his body developed:

“I played varsity football all the way from 7th to 12th grade. And I was pretty successful – I played both sides of the ball, mostly receiver at that stage. But I was also a safety and a return guy too. Anything where they needed speed; I was a skinny guy at high school right up to my senior year, where I started getting a bit bigger. I think I hit about 185, and it was then I started playing a bit more linebacker. I fell in love with it – what I like to do most on a football field is hit people. And it turns out hitting people allowed me to get a scholarship.”

It might feel like Drake was destined to play football – but it could have been so much different. Excelling on the basketball court as well as the gridiron, there came a time where Quae had to make a decision:

“I would say around 11th grade, football was kinda even with basketball for me. I did a lot of sports; track, basketball and football the main ones. But I knew, going into the 12th grade, if I wanted to get some offers to play sport at the next level, I would have to make a choice. So in that summer, I started going to football camps. And it was both a heart and head decision – I loved football, but also knew it was a lot harder to get a basketball scholarship in Alabama than a football one, especially from a small school. Football was the key to get that scholarship, get that education, and help me out the best in life. I prayed on it a lot, went to four or five camps, and got some FCS interest – it worked out for me.”

Choosing The Owls

Recruiting is a ruthless experience for most high school football players – many believing that they don’t get the kind of interest from the FBS programs that they think their skills deserve. To Quae Drake’s credit, he doesn’t once mention the lack of an elite offer – if anything, he kind of conveyed a sense of gratitude that a kid from a 1A school in a tiny town got any attention at all. He didn’t mind where he got his break as long as he got one – and, as it turns out, he had a number of options:

“Kennesaw State wasn’t my first offer. I started out with Bethune-Cookman, Western Carolina, then Chattanooga. It was kind of a balance for me – I wanted to branch out, get away from home a little, but not too much! Family is very important to me, and I wanted them to be able to come and watch me play. A small town guy, family is a big deal – so I didn’t rush the decision. I took visits to all those schools, prayed about it, and had to have faith too – it was a confusing process for both me and my family. Nobody else in my family had been offered a scholarship before, so it was new to us all.”

Full of pitfalls and snake oil salesmen, navigating through recruiting can be a minefield. A cautious approach from Drake and his family saw him finally land on a school just two hours away from home:

“A lot of the things the coaches were saying would get in my head, promising me things like starting right away, be the guy and all that. Now i’m a young man, never sat on the bench in my life, so that was music to my ears! So I had to be careful, bide my time. Kennesaw State came in real late; a startup program but they were winning – a lot! I went on an official visit there and I just fell in love with the place. The city is beautiful, the campus beautiful – from that point there I just kinda shut my recruitment down. Close but not too close to home, family near there in Atlanta – it was tough, but the experience got a lot easier once Kennesaw State showed their interest.”

Not In Wadley Anymore

A big fish from a small pond, Quae Drake headed north with thoughts of making an immediate impact in his new home. The reality of course, was very different – as it is for many freshmen on scholarships. Drake redshirted his first season – his first taste of adversity when it came to football:

“It was very challenging. I got there, I had big expectations. Never had to ride the pine my whole career – the big guy from the small school who got a wake up call when I got to college! I worked hard, you know, it wasn’t through a lack of trying. But I had a very good guy in front of me, Bryson Armstrong, who played the Sam linebacker position I was at, an incredible teammate. I managed to play in four games without losing my redshirt, started one of them when Bryson got hurt, but other than that it was frustrating being on the sidelines. My parents coming to the game and me not playing, it was kind of hard to stay motivated through that first year. But it was a plan, and it worked out well for me in the end.”

The following year, Drake saw more gametime, but still wasn’t a starter. Accustomed to having a big role on the field, he worked hard and demonstrated a team mentality – but at the end of 2019 he knew the following season would be pivotal in his college career. Plenty of factors led Quae to decide that his footballing future led away from Kennesaw State:

“It was a complicated decision. COVID came around, had things all upside down, and that year before I had played in 13 games but sparingly – I was a four-team guy, getting any reps on special teams just to see the field – an important role that I loved. But my time on defense was limited. I was heading into my third year, the season was in doubt due to the pandemic, and then Bryson decided to come back rather than head to the league. I knew that would continue to be a hurdle for me to get on the field. It was nothing bad about anyone or anything at Kennesaw State – I loved everyone and everything at that school. It was just a business decision. I needed to play, and I didn’t want to waste any more time just sitting around.”

From Kennesaw To Kansas

Quae Drake had come to the conclusion he needed a new home. But with two years at college and little tape to show what he could do, he knew his options would be limited. A bold decision to head to Butler Community College – 14 hours away in Kansas – sparked a change in fortunes:

“The problem was, I didn’t have much film other than special teams. I had a couple of Division II offers when I hit the portal, but I wanted something bigger. I decided to bet on myself, go the JuCo route, and prove I could play linebacker. And you know, I had a great experience out there at Butler. I knew I could do it, I just had to show coaches that.”

Quae Drake wasted little time fitting into his new surroundings, finally playing at a level he always knew he was capable of. Not even a global pandemic could stop him from demonstrating what he could do between the sidelines – and people noticed:

“I went out there and showed what I’m about, but it was a weird time. COVID meant I actually only played four games. It was a big shock to everyone, all my family, because it was so far from home. But I felt like I needed that – make it a business trip so to speak. The coaches there were amazing; they gave me the opportunity to hone my skills, lead the team and really find myself. And I was an all-conference player, got some attention, and I can’t thank those guys and that program enough. I just wish it lasted more than four games, but Coach Bowden and Coach Alley from ULM came calling.”

Quae was at peace with his decision – and betting on himself ultimately paid off handsomely. 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks in four games attests to that. But as he alluded to, it was a move that raised eyebrows amongst friends and family at first, with a stigma about Community College clouding people’s understanding:

“I was on the Dean’s list at Kennesaw State. Everything academically was right. This is why a lot of people were shocked because the narrative is you go to JuCo for one of two reasons – either you get into trouble or you need to get your grades up. That wasn’t the case – JuCo was just my way of proving myself”

FBS Football

It seems quite remarkable that, having to drop down to play JuCo football from the FCS, Quae Drake took just four games to show that he could play at a level even higher than he was at with Kennesaw State. All it took was his own self-confidence, along with a vision from one coach in particular. Zac Alley – then the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at ULM, was the key reason why Drake chose Monroe, Louisiana as stop number three in a nomadic college career:

“Coach Alley was there for me throughout my JuCo times. Good and bad, He’s a great guy who thinks about you as a person first and a football player second. And when it was time, he sold me on how I could come straight into his defense, be that versatile asset and play multiple positions. Even though it was my fourth year, when I got to ULM I was probably one of the youngest linebackers in the room. Week in, week out I played a different position – dime to safety to linebacker to bandit. Whatever the team needed me to do, I did it. Coach Alley helped instill that team mentality in me, that it doesn’t matter where you play – as long as you know the defense, you’re going to make plays. I really enjoyed playing for him – he’s a players coach, allows you to be yourself and express yourself – and he puts you in positions where you can succeed. I could tell he had a lot of potential – he helped the Warhawks go from a zero-win team to being competitive every week. Our defense there was good.”

The defense was better than good – and Drake was worthy of his role at the heart of it. In two years with the Warhawks, he had notched up more than 100 tackles, 12 TFL’s, a pair of interceptions, and had even registered the first touchdown in his college career.

It had been a long journey. But Quae Drake had arrived – and he wasn’t done yet.

One Final Flourish

Maybe, just maybe, after three stops in five years, you would think that Quae Drake had finished moving around. But thirty minutes in his company and I already know that this is a man who is only satisfied when he’s exhausted every opportunity at his disposal. Betting on himself once again, Drake looked for one more chance to ball out – and it just so happened that a familiar face had landed only 60 miles away from his old stomping ground of Wadley:

“At that point, I had been away from my people and my hometown for three years. When I looked at my goals after that second year at ULM, I just thought to myself ‘nothing is guaranteed in football’ – that this next season might be my last playing the sport. And I really wanted my family to finally be able to see me do my thing on the field. So once Coach Alley went to Jacksonville State, my ears kinda pricked up – it’s only 45 minutes from Wadley, and I knew Coach would allow me to flourish. At ULM, the defense was evolving, they were using me at bandit a lot more – and whilst I was happy to do that role on occasion, I knew it wasn’t my true home on the field. The NFL, they’d look at me as an outside linebacker, a Will linebacker, so if I was going to give it everything this final year, I had to show them I could dominate at that position. Coach Alley gave me that opportunity, in a system I knew inside and out. I knew I’d have to earn it, and I knew I would. I also knew he’d be relying on me to be a leader on that defense – something I was slowly developing my skills in. That was another opportunity to show I can lead my teammates, be accountable and hold others accountable.”

Drake’s humble acknowledgement of knowing professional football isn’t guaranteed for everyone is refreshing. It’s that pragmatic attitude to every opportunity that has allowed him success on and off the field – and heading back to Alabama was not going to change that approach:

“A real nice touch was that, when I spoke to Coach Rodriguez and Coach Alley, I made it clear that I wanted to leave Jax State with my masters. I had gotten my degree at ULM, but they allowed me to achieve that whilst also playing football. I get that masters on May 3rd, and it’s something that nobody can ever take away from me. That will be big for me far beyond football, and wherever life takes me. It ticked every box – Jacksonville was the right place for me to finish my college career on top. And whilst I had that mindset that this could be the end, I made damn sure that I gave everything to try and ensure it wouldn’t be – that I wanted to play football at the next level. Being a Gamecock helped with that too – a lot of midweek games, but we were on ESPN each week. I had a level of exposure I hadn’t enjoyed elsewhere. There was nowhere better for me.”

An NFL Resume

The decision to head to Jacksonville State proved inspired. The Gamecocks had an incredible season their first year in the FBS, recording nine wins – culminating in a bowl victory against Louisiana in New Orleans. Personally, Quae Drake made a mockery of his arduous route to gametime, pretty much doubling his career stats in just one year. Playing predominantly as a Will linebacker in Zach Alley’s defense, Drake put together the kind of film he’d always known he was capable of:

“I called it a ‘polish up’ season. I showed people what I could do at ULM, but this year I left everyone in no doubt. I went in there, showed I could play in the box, and showed I could produce. I had heard a lot of people saying I wasn’t fast enough, I didn’t weigh enough – things like that I’d heard all my life. They didn’t know that was fuel for me. The journey was fuel for me. That season at Kennesaw State motivated me. Knowing I had to go elsewhere to get my chance at linebacker – so when it came to shine, I made sure I did. I had to end it well – it’s never about how you start, always about how you finish. My senior year, I left it all out on the field, and showed those NFL coaches I can do it. I can play this game.”

For most six year draft prospects, the question of how much ‘tread on their tyres’ they have after a longer college career is almost inevitable. But this does not feel applicable to Drake, who’s late development suggests that we’re only scratching the surface of what he can achieve. Unsurprisingly, the linebacker agrees:

“I feel like I haven’t man! I feel like I can improve in a lot of different ways yet! I balled out, but this was truly my first full year at Will linebacker, and that was only the start. I’m still trending up, still trying to get better, and I know there’s more to come. My confidence now, knowing I’m on the right track and heading towards fulfilling my potential after a great season – I’m ready to be that late bloomer and embrace the challenges ahead.”

One benefit of playing different roles in different schemes throughout his career, is that Drake has a level of versatility to his game that other prospects can only dream of. Discussing how he thinks his skillset translates to the next level, Quae is bullish:

My speed, instincts – I feel like I thrive in a 4-2-5 or 3-4 defense. It just allows me to play outside linebacker, down-lineman on the edge if needed. Nowadays you see edge defenders dropping out of pressure and into coverage, something I can do – it’s almost like versatility is mandatory in the league nowadays. My journey has blessed me with that – whatever the team needs I truly feel I can do it. I’ve been in four different stops in my college career, so learning a new defense isn’t an issue.”

Draft Prep

Such is Quae Drake’s gratitude to those who have helped him get this far, we’ve chewed up almost thirty minutes and have barely mentioned the draft itself. He tells me how Brian Bohannon – the coach at Kennesaw State who ‘took a chance on a small town kid’ – messages him every year on his birthday. He beams when we talk about Tim Schaffner and his staff at Butler, how they recruited him hard and helped him resurrect his career. The same love goes to his coaches at both ULM and Jax State too – some of which worked with him at both locations. Drake knows his route to today has been different – and is very aware that a lot of people have helped him into a position whereby he can fight for a professional football career.

Training in Dallas, Quae jokes about how he’s learned to enjoy traveling to new destinations. With nine weeks in ‘Big D’ to prepare for his pro day on March 21st, he’s excited to showcase himself in front of scouts:

“When they get there, I’m gonna show my explosiveness. They’re gonna be impressed with my acceleration and my work ethic. And that work ethic goes for my teammates too. At Jacksonville State we always say we have a ‘hard edge’ mentality. They won’t see us give up on tape or at our pro day. They won’t see us arguing or get down on ourselves. We keep a smile on our face, remember our love for the game, and lean on our toughness. We keep that hard edge art all times. I can’t wait to show them what that culture is all about”

In typical Quae Drake fashion, he’s refusing to get ahead of himself, instead trying to maximize his chances and control what he can control. To that end, plans for draft weekend are vague – but he is fully aware of how big a moment it would be should he get a call from an NFL team:

“No plans! I haven’t even thought that far ahead. I’m just down in Dallas trying to get better, get my body right. I’ll start thinking about that after pro day maybe, but for sure I’ll be somewhere back home with my family. I hope it happens you know, a team gives me that call. It’ll mean a lot – to be able to show the kids in Walden, Alabama – the kids who play 1A football – that if you work hard, you can achieve that opportunity. Even being here right now, enjoying the process means a lot to me, understanding the sacrifices myself and my family have made. It’s possible! Don’t listen to what others say – just work hard and bet on yourself.”

Mock Draft


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A huge thank you to Quae for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchdown wishes him well in his future career.