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IOWA CITY — Although he’s strapped on pads for four NFL teams, stood in as a Hollywood stunt double for the likes of Will Smith, and bungee jumped out of a helicopter hovering over the Grand Canyon, some of Quinn Early’s fondest memories involve Iowa City and his time playing wide receiver for the Hawkeyes.
“I just loved it there when I came to visit,” Early, now 56, said of the first time he stepped foot in Iowa in the early 1980s. “I just had an instant great vibe from the place.”
He’s back in Iowa City this weekend to be grand marshal for the University of Iowa homecoming parade, scheduled to start at 5:45 p.m. Friday in Iowa City.
“I’m just excited to see some of my old teammates and do some tailgating,” he said. “I’m excited and humbled to be grand marshal.”
As a three-sport athlete in West Hempstead, N.Y., Early caught the eye of a University of Iowa recruiter, and Head Coach Hayden Fry invited Early to make the Midwest move.
“They let me know that I’d have an opportunity to get a good education,” Early told The Gazette. “But they didn't really promise me any stardom or anything like that.”
He appreciated that down-to-earth approach.
“I’ve always been one that believes that you earn stuff when you work hard,” Early said.
Flying into the Cedar Rapids airport for the first time, he said the humble terminal seemed more like a house in the middle of a runway.
“But when I got there, all the guys from New York were there to greet me,” he said. “They all had on their lettermen jackets. And they instantly grabbed me and took me out to dinner.”
The crew went to Iowa River Power Co., where Early said he likely ordered surf and turf. And he pretty quickly fell for the university’s art program — eventually earning a degree in commercial art.
Growing up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Early said he also liked the Hawkeye black and gold, the same as the Steelers.
“When you’re 18, that’s huge. I wanted to rock that uniform,” he said. “I just had that feeling that this is where I want to be.”
'You do this for a living?’
After graduating from the UI in 1987 — after being team captain and being named to the first team All-Big Ten — Early was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the third round of the 1988 NFL draft and played wide receiver there until he went to the New Orleans Saints, the Buffalo Bills and finally the New York Jets, where he ended his football career in 1999.
Early made a fast transition to his next career, which proved just as exciting. A friend called and ask if he wanted to be in a movie.
“I said absolutely. And the next thing I knew I was hanging out of the back of a truck shooting a machine gun, and they paid me for it,” Early said. “And I was like, are you serious? You do this for a living? And I’ve been a stunt man in Hollywood ever since.”
Over the years, Early has stood in for Will Smith in movies like “Bright” in 2017 and “King Richard,” scheduled for release next month. He’s performed stunts in TV shows like “S.W.A.T.”, “SEAL Team” and “L.A.’s Finest.”
He’s recently worked on the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian.”
Some of the work, he said, is “pretty gnarly stuff”
“I mean, it’s definitely crazy stuff,” he said, conceding some roles are more mundane. “I’m getting ready to work on a TV show, and all I’m going to do is just barbecue.”
When asked about his wildest stunt, Early cited — without pause — the time he had to bungee jump out of a helicopter over the Grand Canyon for Will Smith.
“For his 50th birthday, somebody dared him to bungee jump out of a helicopter into the Grand Canyon, so he needed a test dummy for that,” he said. “So I actually did that before he did it.”
Early told The Gazette he’s glad he did.
“The craziest thing I’ve ever done is the most amazing thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “But would I do it again? Absolutely not.”
Expanding on his artistic skills, Early has moved into screenwriting, recently completing a screenplay based on the story of Frank Kinney Holbrook, Iowa’s first Black intercollegiate athlete, titled, “The Angel of Harlem and the Hawkeye.”
He also recently completed his first film, “Just Bake Cookies.” And Early was commissioned by the UI to paint an oil portrait of Fry after the legendary coach’s death in 2019.
Although he wasn’t yet back in Iowa, Early — like many Hawkeye faithful — said he watched last weekend’s nail-biter against Penn State.
“I was jumping up and down in my living room like everybody else,” he said, noting Iowa always will hold his collegiate football allegiance. “There is no other college team.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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