How Gators won over Corey Collier's parents to land the FSU legacy
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How Gators won over Corey Collier's parents to land the FSU legacy

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MIAMI — Alanyia Johnson calls Corey Collier Jr. her miracle child.

The nation’s No. 1 safety made his college decision Monday, committing to Florida in an exclusive video with Rivals. It took some work for the Gators to win over his parents, both of whom attended Florida State from 1999-2002.

His father, Corey Collier Sr., played linebacker for the Seminoles, while his mother was on FSU’s track and field team as a heptathlete.

“That means you compete in seven events at a track meet. So I did long jump, high jump, javelin, shot put, 100-meter hurdles, the 800 and the mile run,” Johnson said. “Looking back on the heptathlons I did, I can see why I didn’t do as good as I wanted to do. I was pregnant.”

Not once, but twice.

Johnson completed her junior season while pregnant with her first born, A’laysia Collier. She then conceived Corey, unbeknownst to her, and once again competed in heptathlons as a senior.

“I kept running track not knowing I was pregnant,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have any stomach or grow big at all. With me not getting any treatment and continuing to run, jump and lift weights, I just could not understand how he was able to function that long. I wasn’t depriving him, but I honestly thought I might have a miscarriage.”

Collier had “no issues whatsoever” at birth according to his mother, but she said he was very skinny. His grandmother, Terry Rigby, overloaded him with rice cereal when his parents moved in with her after FSU graduation, and that’s how “Fat Daddy” became his nickname.

Rigby’s house in Miami was visited by several college coaches to recruit Collier’s father, who starred at Palmetto Senior High like his son. SEC schools such as Auburn and Tennessee courted him, but he chose to sign with the Seminoles and their legendary coach.

“Bobby Bowden came to my house and sat in my living room. I couldn’t believe it,” Collier Sr. said. “When you see this person on TV as a kid and then you actually play for this guy, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m actually here.’ It was a dream.”

Collier was a freshman on Florida State’s 1999 national championship team. Corey and his older sister lived on campus while their parents were still in school, accompanying them to classes, practices and even team meetings.

“Once we had them, they went everywhere with us,” Johnson said. “They were walking around FSU with us, coming to our track practices or football practices. It was tough, but we made it work.”

Collier Jr. doesn’t have memories from his days at FSU, only the stories from his parents. But that history gave him a strong connection to the program, which turned into his childhood dream.

“I was born into it, so I wanted to go to Florida State bad,” Collier Jr. said. “Ever since I was little people have been telling me, ‘Oh, you’re going to Florida State like your dad.’ When I started playing football, that was my goal.”

Collier and his family relocated to Georgia in 2010, but he and his two sisters moved back to Miami with their father after Johnson started a new job that required 13 weeks training.

Collier quickly made a name for himself on the gridiron in eighth grade, earning a spot on the area all-star team. With the prospect of playing high school ball in Dade County, his parents made the decision to keep him there so he could have more recruiting exposure.

“By him progressing and getting noticed more, going back to Georgia could have potentially hurt him,” Johnson said. “So his father and I decided to let Corey remain in Miami with his sisters, because we didn’t want to split them up. That’s something I struggle with daily, not seeing my kids. But that’s the sacrifice I made.”

Like his mother predicted, Collier started as a freshman at Miami Palmetto and his recruitment took off the following year. He began landing scholarship offers after his sophomore season, but his sights were set on one school.

“When it first started I was like, ‘I gotta get Florida State. I gotta get Florida State.’ That was the offer I wanted,” Collier said. “Because of my dad, I wanted to be like him but he always told me to be better than him. But I was like, ‘I want to go to Florida State, I want to go Florida State.’”

The Seminoles offered Collier in June of 2018, but he didn’t commit on the spot. More than a dozen teams had already beat them to the punch, and his father advised him not to rush into a decision.

More importantly, Collier Sr. let his son know he didn’t have to follow in his footsteps.

“A lot of pressure was on him because of that,” his father said. “Because I went, people thought he might go to Florida State. But when I was talking to him I said, ‘Make your own choice. Don’t go because I went here.’ I tried to make him understand that.”

He had to also make that understood to Seminoles defensive line coach Odell Haggins and wide receivers coach Ron Dugans, who was Collier’s teammate in 1999. Haggins served as an assistant during his four years at FSU.

“Those guys are like my brothers, so they didn’t want to hear ‘no’ from me,” Collier Sr. said. “Odell was like, ‘Look man, I’m going to come down there and we’re all going to go to dinner and talk this out.’ I had to tell them, that’s not me. That’s my son. He’s his own man.”

His mother believes Corey’s infatuation with the Seminoles stemmed from his fandom as a child and being an FSU legacy. And while he had conversations with his parents about their alma mater, Johnson said they never encouraged him to go there and didn’t “sugarcoat” their experience at the school.

As Collier’s recruitment evolved, he started to think outside of the box.

“Going through the process, I was like, ‘OK, there are more schools out here than just FSU.’ That changed my mind really quick,” he said. “I realized they weren’t a fit for me, so I had to choose a different path. Once things started getting serious, I had to get down to business.”

While Collier’s parents didn’t push him to attend Florida State, they weren’t exactly thrilled when Florida entered the picture. His mother didn’t hide her disdain for the Gators, either.

“I never liked the University of Florida. I’ve never been a Gator fan for anything,” Johnson said. “So when he started talking to me about UF, I’m like, ‘Why UF? Like, ugh. What do you like about UF?’ I couldn’t understand it.”

Gators coach Dan Mullen and his staff would eventually win over both parents after months of relentless recruiting and building a relationship with their family. Johnson said UF was the only school that had four coaches contact her — Mullen, safeties coach Ron English, primary recruiter Brian Johnson and assistant director of player personnel John Herron — and they reached out to Collier Sr. more than any other staff.

“Florida was talking to me all the time, just calling and always checking up on us,” Collier Sr. said. “Miami and LSU did it too, but Florida did it a lot. Like a lot.

“So they kind of made me more comfortable and feel like family. That’s because they were reaching out to make sure we were OK with this pandemic going on. So that sold me.”

The major selling point for Johnson? A meal plan.

Her biggest concern with her son is his weight, which she mentioned to UF. Collier is currently listed at 180 pounds, but she said he has a poor appetite and doesn’t eat a lot.

“Me and his grandma have to force feed him,” Johnson said. “So with me telling Florida that when we had our conversations, they started sending me like meal plans of what he would be eating and how they were going to address that. When I got that information, it really impressed me.”

Collier will be the first five-star recruit from Miami to sign with UF in program history. With four senior safeties on the roster, the Rivals100 member has a chance to compete for a starting job as a true freshman.

Despite Collier’s accomplishments and accolades at the high school level, his father keeps him humbled and focused on the future.

“To see all this spotlight he’s getting, I enjoy it. But I always tell him not to let it get to his head,” Collier Sr. said. “He’s come a long way, but we’ve got bigger fish to fry. So he’s just gotta keep working.”

Collier’s mother will soon be sending her miracle child off to Florida, where he plans to enroll early. Once that happens, he’ll join his older sister as a high school graduate and college student.

As a probation officer in Georgia, she’s grateful her kids are not on that path.

“I was a young mom, so to have both of my kids go to college, that’s major for me,” Johnson said. “And the fact that Corey is on this paramount and he’s doing so well, it means a lot. There’s a lot of different bad things he could be doing in Miami.

“When I go to court or jail, I thank God that my child isn’t going down that road. His head is on correctly, and we don’t force him to do the right thing. He’s doing it because this is what he wants to do.”