Utah DE makes silver and gold pledge

A TACKLING MACHINE IN THE TRENCHES who racked up 78 tackles and 7.5 sacks as a junior from his defensive end position, Highland (Salt Lake City) two-way starting line warrior DESMOND COLLINS is a 6-3.5, 245-pound freight train that is explosive off the ball and backed by an eye-popping 4.7-40 motor. Highland head coach Brody Benson talked with GVN about Collins and his verbal commitment to Idaho.

Last week news broke on our message boards of a story in a Utah high school newspaper - the Highland (Salt Lake City) High School "Highland Rambler" - about two-way star lineman Desmond Collins (6-3.5, 245) and his verbal commitment to the University of Idaho.

To confirm the story and get an update on Collins' recruitment, GoVandals.net contacted Highland head football coach Brody Benson Monday afternoon. For Vandal fans everywhere, the news was good.

"Yes, Desmond has made a verbal commitment to Idaho," coach Benson told GVN. "He was actually offered a scholarship on Signing Day, and went up to the Idaho campus for Junior Day [this past spring]."

A solid commitment to Idaho, Desmond has offers from Oregon State and Utah State, but reportedly picked the Vandals for several reasons, including the relationships he made with the Idaho staff - and in particular head coach Robb Akey - and the opportunity to battle for immediate playing time.

Considered by some to be one of the top defensive line prospect in the state of Utah, Collins racked up stunning statistics in 2009 as a junior, including 78 tackles and 7.5 sacks. A left guard on the Ram offensive line and a strongside defensive end in Highland's 4-3 alignment, he's being recruited by the Vandals as a defensive end but could move inside depending on his development in Moscow. A gifted athlete with an impressive combination of size and speed, his evaluation on ESPN states the following:

"One of his real strengths is his initial quickness. He has a good get-off and because of that he is capable of getting into the gap quickly and getting some penetration. Does a solid job of staying square when coming across the line and being able to make a play on the ball. He is a physical kid when taking on blockers and will flash the ability to use his hands to engage and can shed and be able to cross the blockers face."
The same terminology was used by coach Benson to describe Collins' strengths. Collins was a two way starter for the Rams last year, but his strength was on the defensive side where he's been a starter on the Highland defensive line since his sophomre season.

According to Coach Benson, who is the head coach and defensive line coach for the Rams, the confidence level that Collins plays at now is where he has improved his game the most (maximizing his physical strengths), as is his ability to keep the motor going every down. Keep in mind, Collins rarely leaves the field, which means that motor is going virtually all game long. The Rams are hoping he may be able to focus exclusively on defensive line duties this fall, but he is such an asset in the trenches for Highland that he may also start both ways again in 2010.

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS IT that gives Collins that extra edge in the trenches? According to coach Benson, the top three reasons include (in no particular order) an exceptional wingspan, his ability to change directions instantly, and "his explosiveness off the line." That explosion includes exceptional speed for an athlete of Collins' size - and a stunning 4.7 forty (as reported by several recruiting sites).

He's dedicated to the weightroom as well, with a bench of 315 and 515 squat, and a 285 clean. He exhibits particularly good lower body strength, which will give him an outstanding chance to battle for immediate playing time in the Vandal rotation.

"They [the Idaho coaching staff] like Desmond," Benson told GVN. "They like his size and speed. The kid can run."

His athleticism isn't relegated to the football field alone either. On the track team this spring he finished 2nd in the region and 6th at state in the discuss.

SINCE TAKING OVER THE IDAHO PROGRAM IN 2007, head coach Robb Akey has rebuilt the Vandal football team - and its mentality - from the struggling program he inherited. He took over from legendary coach Dennis Erickson and his less-than-twelve-months, second-time-around stint in Moscow. Idaho athletes had been burned twice in two years by coaches touting "I'm here to stay!" as they were simultaneously walking out the back door.

But that changed with the arrival of coach Akey, who has seen this team through a painful rebuilding effort which included losing a boatload of players his first year in Moscow. Going into his fourth season at Idaho, he's delivered the stability the football program needed.

Last year Coach Akey and the team reaped the rewards of three years of heavy work, racing out to a 7-2 record and capping off a remarkable turnaround season with a heart-pounding, come-from-behind 43-42 Humanitarian Bowl victory over Bowling Green that became one of the most memorable games of the 2009 bowl season.

Key to the rebuilding effort that led to last season's success was building the team with talented freshman athletes. As a long-time assistant and defensive coordinator at neighboring Washington State, coach Akey had made numerous connections among the high school coaching ranks in the region. These kinds of connections are crucial, and they are the lifeblood of any successful program.

With the Vandals ever in search of keeping the pipeline stocked with defensive line talent, their regional search led to one of Utah's top defensive line talents in Desmond Collins. That search also caused the Vandals to cross paths with Highland head coach Brody Benson.

But it would not be the first meeting between Akey and Benson. The two coaches actually met years ago when Akey was the DC at Wazzu and the Cougars were recruiting former Highland star TE/DE Braden Brown (Brown accepted an offer to BYU in 2006). They developed a professional friendship over the years since that first meeting on the Palouse, and kept in contact when Coach Akey took over at Idaho and coach Benson took over head coaching duties at Highland.

Among the reasons Benson cites for their friendship is an appreciation he has for the type of program Coach Akey runs, and his commitment to the players.

"If I had a son, I would want my son to play for Robb," Benson told GVN. "It's more than just a business for Robb. He is committed to the kids. He won't hold their hands through the process, but he will be there for them.

"He won't always tell you what you want to hear, but he will tell you how it is."

Check back in with GVN in the coming weeks for updates on the 2010 campaign for Collins and the Highland Rams.

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