Quarles takes on leadership role at Western New England

Chris Quarles, a former All-Naugatuck Valley League linebacker from Naugatuck, is entering his senior season at Western New England University and is the team’s lone captain. -BRYAN HEWITT

All Chris Quarles wanted when he was searching for colleges was a school with a strong engineering program. Four years later, he’s gotten more than he could have imagined at Western New England University.

Quarles, the former All-Naugatuck Valley League linebacker from Naugatuck, is the sole captain of the WNE football team as he enters his senior year at the Springfield, Mass., school. It wasn’t necessarily something he’d expected while he was a senior for the Greyhounds.

“(Former WNE coach Keith Emery) had come to the high school to recruit me,” Quarles said. “I was drawn to their football program, but my main focus was school, and they offered a great engineering program. Football at the time was just a bonus.”

When Quarles shipped up to Springfield in the summer of 2015, he faced a steep learning curve in terms of the work required to be part of a successful football program. That work resulted in three straight conference championships and three straight trips to the NCAA Division III tournament.

“My first few years here really taught me what it took to become a champion and how to build a winning culture,” Quarles said. “I did not expect to have the success that we initially had, but I quickly understood the amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifice it took. The first few years also really taught me what it was like to have a brotherhood. You come into camp not knowing many names, and by the end of the season you feel like you’ve known the guys your whole life.”

Quarles appeared in 11 games as a freshman, registering 24 solo tackles and two interceptions. He appeared in another 11 games as a sophomore and nine more as a junior. During his junior campaign, he racked up another 24 solo tackles and two picks — one of which helped seal a 42-28 victory over Curry to clinch the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship.

A few months later, Emery named Quarles the team’s lone captain for the 2018 season.

“I believe I earned the right to be the team’s captain with consistent effort and dedication to the program,” Quarles said. “It was definitely a goal of mine coming into the program to show the team and coaches that I had what it took to be the leader of the team. I’ve always been taught to be a leader and not a follower, so I thank my parents (Wilmer and Laura) for instilling that trait in me.”

Quarles’ first challenge as captain came during the offseason, when Emery stepped down as head coach to relocate with his family. Soon after, offensive coordinator Jason Lebeau was elevated to head coach.

“My role as the captain was to keep the team focused during that time,” Quarles said. “I had to remind them that we couldn’t control things like a coaching change, but we could control how we reacted to it and how hard we worked day in and day out. My goal was to ensure that even with a coaching change we would still worked our hardest to accomplish our goal of a four-peat.”

Having been in the program for six years before his appointment as head coach, Lebeau has watched Quarles grow from a rookie to the team’s captain — and now even more since he’s been named captain.

“Chris showed tremendous growth this past offseason that led to him being named our team’s One Captain,” Lebeau said. “He is a great example of what it means to be a Golden Bear football player. Chris is a great teammate who puts the interests of the brotherhood before his own. I am extremely excited to watch Chris make his impact in this program throughout the 2018 season.”

Western New England will open the season Aug. 31 at rival Springfield as the Golden Bears seek a fourth straight conference title. But no matter the results of this season, Quarles said this experience has changed his future for the better.

“These four years have definitely had a great impact on who I am today,” Quarles said. “I have learned so much about myself, how to improve my weaknesses and how to maintain my strengths. Being a captain has taught me what it takes to be able to lead a group of men on the field but also be a source of aid or someone to talk to off the field. It’s really benefited me in my future as an industrial engineer because I’ve gained the skills needed to lead a successful team, which is vital in today’s world.”