AUBURN, Ala. — Former Auburn linebacker Quentin Groves was far more than the all-time sacks co-leader on the Plains.
The 32-year-old, who died in his sleep Saturday in his wife’s home country of Trinidad, was widely beloved by his former coaches and teammates. He remained an integral part of the Auburn family long after his days on the football field.
“He was one of my all-time favorites,” former Auburn linebackers coach Joe Whitt told SEC Country. “He was such a nice guy. … It’s a terrible loss. My whole family was involved in his growth and maturity and he was such a great kid. He’ll be thoroughly missed. It’s just such a terrible loss.”
Groves’ passing was a shock to the Auburn community. He underwent heart surgery prior to the 2008 NFL draft after being diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome — where an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes it to beat rapidly — during medical tests at the combine. It’s unclear if that medical history played any part in his passing.
The Greenville, Miss., native arrived at Auburn in 2003 as a slender and quiet underclassman, but he didn’t stay that way long. His career with the Tigers ended in 2007, one year after earning a criminology degree.
“I used to mess with him and tell him that he had better get big before he was going to go out there and mess with the big boys of the SEC,” said former Tigers wide receiver Jeris McIntyre, who was a senior in 2003. “He took it hard.”
Groves had two responses. First he teased McIntyre back, explaining he didn’t have to be big in stature when he was faster than Auburn’s then-wide receiver group (which included McIntyre, Courtney Taylor, Anthony Mix, Devin Aromashadou and Ben Obamanu). Then Groves got focused.
Over the course of his redshirt freshman year, Groves spent time in the weight room with then-strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall.
The following season, Groves played in every game of Auburn’s undefeated season. He tied as the team sack leader (7.5) and totaled 23 tackles, earning All-SEC Freshman honors.
Groves didn’t get complacent and the following spring he was named the most improved defensive lineman by the coaching staff.
“He really was an Auburn man,” McIntyre said. “He defines it. Great guy on and off the field with his work ethic. He was a people person and was always smiling. He knew how to carry himself, and I think that’s the definition of an Auburn man. Hard-working, blue-collar kind of guy. He just lived life the way you were supposed to live it.”
Over time, Groves became a role model and friend to younger Tigers, too. He also stayed modest even as he had tremendous success on the field.
Against Alabama in 2006, Groves amassed 7 tackles, earned 2 sacks, forced 2 fumbles and recorded a quarterback hurry, helping Auburn beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa for the fifth straight year. He was named All-SEC first team by coaches and The Associated Press.
“I had the pleasure and privilege of spending two seasons with Quentin at Auburn, and I can attribute a lot of my early success in college to learning from him,” former Auburn defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks said in a statement released by his current NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. “He was an incredible athlete on the field and a great, close friend off of it. I am lucky to have spent a lot of time with Quentin and (Groves’ wife, former Auburn track athlete Treska Baptiste) and thoroughly enjoyed every second of it.”
Teammates rarely saw Groves in a bad mood.
“You never really saw him down. He just did what he had to do,” McIntyre said. “He made plays. He’s the best pass-rusher in Auburn University history. He’s the greatest one to ever come through there. … He was doing a lot of great things in the community. There were a lot of great memories.”
One of the most notable memories came in 2007 after Auburn defeated Alabama for the sixth straight time. Groves climbed into the stands amid cheers and screams, dancing and leading the Auburn marching band in “War Eagle” and the “Hey Song.” He would leave Auburn as a member of the winningest class in Tiger history.
— John Carvalho (@John_P_Carvalho) October 15, 2016
Groves finished his college career with 26 sacks, tied with Gerald Robinson for most in school history. After recovering from his 2008 heart surgery, Groves was drafted in the second round of that year’s draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over the course of seven NFL seasons, the linebacker spent time with the Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans.
“Quentin was one of my favorites and I always enjoyed spending time with him,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs told the program’s website Saturday. “He had a vibrant smile, a big personality and was full of life. He lived life to its fullest and had a great love for his family and friends. On behalf of the entire Auburn family, our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Treska, their two children and countless family, friends and teammates.”
Numerous former and current players, coaches, fans and friends voiced their thoughts and emotions in the hours after the news broke about Groves’ death on Saturday.
Truly saddened to hear the news of my Auburn brother, Quentin Groves passing. Please keep his family in your prayers. #restinpeace
— Ronnie Brown (@ronnie23brown) October 15, 2016
Saddened to hear the news on the passing of @QuentinGroves Continue to keep his family in our thoughts and prayers
— DeMeco Ryans (@DRyans59) October 15, 2016
— Sean Thomas (@SeanThomasAU) October 15, 2016
So sad to hear about the passing of Quentin Groves, who played for me at Auburn. Great athlete. Great family man. A better person.
— Tommy Tuberville (@TTuberville) October 16, 2016
Two members of the current Tiger coaching staff reflected on their time spent with Groves on Saturday.
Wide receiver coach Kodi Burns played one year with Groves (2007) while linebackers coach Travis Williams played alongside Groves for three (2003-05).
“I am hurt to hear about my brother and teammate Q,” Burns tweeted on Saturday. “Not only was he one of the most talented players I’ve seen, but he was Auburn. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and all my brothers that are hurting. We love you man, thanks for all you did for me.”
I am hurt to hear about my brother and teammate Q. Groves. Not only was he one of the most talented players I've seen, but he was Auburn. pic.twitter.com/MSrDuXKbw3
— Kodi Burns (@KodiBurns) October 15, 2016
Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and all my brothers that are hurting. We love you man, thanks for all you did for me. #RIPQ.Groves
— Kodi Burns (@KodiBurns) October 15, 2016
Williams posted a picture of himself and Groves in the weight room, captioning the image, “This one hurts…RIP my brother…Q.Groves.”
This one hurts…RIP my brother…Q.Groves pic.twitter.com/7tsC33w2Q0
— Coach T-Will (@T_WILL4REAL) October 15, 2016
Said coach Gus Malzahn, “We are saddened by the passing of former Auburn great Quentin Groves. Our thoughts and prayers are with Quentin’s family and former teammates during this difficult time.”
Groves is survived by his wife, former Auburn track athlete Treska Baptiste, and two children. The family was in Trinidad to celebrate his daughter Que’Jaah’s birthday.
SEC Country Auburn reporter Justin Ferguson contributed to this story.