(Photo courtesy of Texas A&M-Commerce)Texas A&M-Commerce receiver Ricky Collins is headed to the NFL.
Nobody could have seen this coming back in 2012, when he quit football to take care of his father, who suffered a stroke.
“After my dad had had a stroke, I really wasn’t thinking about football at that point in time because I was really trying to be the man of the house,” Collins said on Thursday, one day after the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported Collins’ upcoming predraft visit with the Green Bay Packers.
Collins, who grew up in Matt Flynn’s hometown of Tyler, Texas, spent his first two collegiate seasons at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College. As a sophomore in 2011, he caught 50 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns. He attracted scholarship offers from most of the SEC schools but some academic issues sent him to Division II Midwestern State. His stint there lasted just five games, with Collins forced to choose between his two loves: football and family.
“To me, it was [a difficult decision] but it wasn’t,” Collins said. “It was either play football or take care of the man who took care of me. He took care of me without a problem so it was my turn to take care of him and my mom.”
Fast forward to 2013, when Collins received a phone call.
“I had a couple of friends that I had known for a good while that had transferred to Commerce and they knew I wasn’t playing football,” Collins recalled. “The head coach [Colby] Carthel, he had known me since junior college. He found out that I wasn’t playing football so my friends and Coach Carthel gave me a call and asked if I wanted to play football again.”
With his father having recovered, Collins went back to school. Since Midwestern State and Commerce play in the Division II Lone Star Conference, he had to sit out the 2013 season due to league transfer rules and pay his own tuition. Collins made the most of his time, Carthel said, as he played with “great attitude” on the scout team.
That set the stage for the 2014 season. Playing in 11 of 12 games, Collins caught 71 passes for 1,187 yards (16.7 average) and 14 touchdowns. He scored at least one touchdown in each of his first seven games and was dominant in every game. In the three games in which he was kept out of the end zone, Collins caught 25 passes for 321 yards. The scouts took notice, as Collins joined fellow receiver Vernon Johnson as legit NFL prospects.
“To be honest, I always had the mind-set that I could make it to the NFL,” he said. “When this season came along, I want to say the sixth game of the season, I had gotten a lot of attention so I was like, ‘It’s time now.’”
At 6-foot and 198 pounds, Collins ran his 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds with a 36-inch vertical at his pro day.
“He’s explosive, strong and runs like the wind,” Carthel said. “He’s got tremendous hands. He can make the one-handed (Odell) Beckham catches. A lot of guys can run, a lot of guys can catch, but not a lot of guys can run like he can and have as strong of hands as he does. In the NFL, you’ve got to have strong hands.”
If Collins can make a roster, he’ll have to be an asset on special teams. Collins “isn’t a pretty boy,” Carthel said. In fact, the coach noted, he could have been the best safety in the conference.
“He can play all four special teams,” Carthel said. “He’s strong, fast and fearless. And he can help in the return game, too. He’s a very, very physical player.”
Collins isn’t expected to get drafted. Still, getting a chance as a college free agent makes his story remarkable.
“Me and my quarterback and my cousins sit back and talk about this stuff all the time, from the struggling that we had come from and now actually being in this position to play in the NFL,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When my phone rings, there’s no telling what’s going to happen.”
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