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October 28, 2009

Collaros Has Come a Long Way

Life used to be pretty simple for Zach Collaros, not that he liked it that way, but he took his limited reps in practices for two and half years and then promptly trotted off the field to the locker room to take a shower. Few people even noticed No. 12, and no media clamored to get an interview with the quarterback that looked more like a kicker.

Oh yeah. There was that Akron game last season when the Steubenville legend came off the bench to scramble for seven yards late in the fourth quarter setting up a Jake Rogers' 48 yard game winning field goal. But in the win the 2006 Ohio Division III Player of the Year connected on only 1 of 4 passes, ran for a paltry 18 yards and relinquished the starting quarterback job the very next week to Chazz Anderson.

My how things have changed. After Tuesday's practice, the redshirt sophomore looked like a bitch canine in season as male reporters closed in thrusting their cameras and microphones at him in every direction as his teammates hooted and hollered at all the attention. But the quarterback that led Steubenville to 30 straight wins showed one of his greatest strengths. He was unshakable and answered every question like a seasoned veteran.

The "new" (but probably temporary) starting quarterback at Cincinnati spoke to Bearcat Lair about his meteoric rise and admitted there were times when he thought his days as a signal caller were numbered.

"Yes. When I was on the depth chart at No. 3, No. 4 or even No. 5, I started to question my ability and where I fit in the program. I thought I could be moved to defense because I was also recruited as a defensive back. Coach Tresey (Cincinnati's former defensive coordinator) used to tell me I was going to play defense here, but Coach Kelly was always reassuring me. He said if I did the things they asked me to do, that I'd stay at quarterback."

As much as Collaros wanted to remain at quarterback, he thought he may have blown it during one practice session his freshman season. He had just thrown an interception, but the defensive back that also inhabits his body made its way to the sideline delivering a crunching blow to the teammate who picked off the pass. As soon as Zach delivered the impressive hit, he knew he had made a mistake and chuckled about it as he recalled the incident.

"That was the first big hit of my entire career," laughed Collaros. "I had just thrown the interception and didn't care. I just wanted to hit somebody, but I also didn't want to put any ideas in the coaches' minds to move me to defense."

Last spring Collaros decided to play baseball for the Bearcats. He had been offered a full baseball scholarship to Marshall (West Virginia, Kent State and Ohio University all offered the more traditional partial scholarships), but Zach had resisted the urge to return to the game earlier in his UC career because he feared it would hurt his chances of playing quarterback. But after trailing fellow redshirt sophomore Chazz Anderson on the depth chart last season, Collaros decided to ask Coach Kelly for permission to play, and the old short-stop laced up the spikes for the first time in two years.

Those two years of inactivity showed as the one time all-star infielder moved to the outfield and batted only .204 in 49 at bats, but Collaros is hoping he'll be able to resume his hardball career in 2010.

"I just say things under my breath to Coach Kelly and Coach Forest," said Collaros, "but I guess we'll sit down after the (football) season and talk about it. I'd love to play again. It was a great experience."

As a true freshman, Collaros came to the Queen City weighing only 190 pounds, but after working with Cincinnati strength and conditioning coach, Paul Longo, the last two years, the 5' 11" quarterback now has his "coat of armor." And it's a pretty impressive coat.

At a now impressive 211 pounds, Collaros is equipped to run the football with authority, something he does quite well. He bench presses over 350 pounds and squats over 500 pounds.

Being the starting quarterback on a Top 10 BCS school seemed impossible only three years ago. The lowly Kent State Golden Flashes were his only football offer until four weeks before national signing day.

Brian Kelly had just arrived at Cincinnati from Central Michigan and was scrambling to put together a recruiting class. Kelly saw Collaros on tape and liked what he saw. The next day Coach Kelly drove to Steubenville to visit with Zach and offer a scholarship. Collaros made the return trip to UC soon afterward, and the deal was done.

Although Collaros is now considered a Bearcat, the city of Cincinnati is only a temporary residence. Steubenville, Ohio will always be his home.

"It's a really close knit community. I still have all my best friends back home, and I talk to at least five of my high school coaches three times a week, even when I wasn't playing. They just wanted to see how I was doing, and all my family is back there. I love going home and seeing my little brother play football."

Even though life couldn't be much better for Zach Collaros right now, he admits there were some black nights when he entertained dark thoughts about whether Cincinnati was the right place for him.

"You can always second guess yourself, and there were times when I'd call home and talk to my parents about if I made the right decision. But everybody told me to keep working hard and persevere."

And persevere he did last Saturday to the tune of 15 completions in 17 attempts for 253 yards and three scores. The scintillating performance triggered a Collaros family celebration in Clifton.

"After the game, I had my mom pick me up. I could only get six tickets for the game, but my crazy family in Columbus that have been taking me to Ohio State games my entire life found a spot to tailgate, and my mom took me over there. It was a great atmosphere."

It could also be a great atmosphere in Syracuse, New York this Saturday for Cincinnati football fans as Zach Collaros takes his show on the road and tries to duplicate his sparkling performance against Louisville and keep the Bearcats unbeaten and in the national title hunt.


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