Zach Collaros came to the University of Cincinnati in 2007 without much fanfare. In fact, his only other scholarship offer came from lowly Kent State. However, even before the senior throws a pass this season, his name is already listed among the program’s top ten in career completion percentage, passing attempts, completions and passing yards, but the now confident signal caller didn’t always have a swagger.
That 2007 recruiting class also included quarterback Chazz Anderson, and the Pickerington Central star took the early lead in the freshman quarterback sweepstakes. When Dustin Grutza and Tony Pike went down with injuries in 2008, Anderson was named the UC starter against Marshall and led the Bearcats to an impressive 33-10 road win. He also started the following week in a win over Rutgers and came off the bench against UConn.
On the other hand, Collaros’ playing time was restricted primarily to special teams play. He threw only four passes all season and completed just one.
The Steubenville star was not only fourth string, but he was also playing behind a quarterback in his own recruiting class. He privately wondered if he had a future at UC.
“There was a lot going through my mind,” he said. “I started to doubt myself a little bit, but I’ve got a great family and friends. I leaned on them through those hard times and tried to seek out advice from those that I trusted. All I kept hearing was to stick it out and keep working hard. I tried to do that, and it’s worked out for me.”
It has more than just worked out. Collaros has become one of the stars in the Big East Conference, but if the Bearcats are to return to their winning ways in 2011, the UC quarterback will need to play even better.
Despite having an impressive 26 touchdown tosses last season, Collaros also had 14 interceptions, and he knows that latter number will need to shrink to a single digit this season.
“There are a lot of reasons for interceptions,” he said. “It’s not always a bad throw. Sometimes you can misread a coverage, and sometimes you try and make a play on third and long. Sometimes it’s me trying to do too much. It’s something as a team we want to cut back on. Sometimes it’s the line giving up too much pressure, and sometimes it’s a receiver going fifteen yards as opposed to twelve yards. It’s something we want to clean up.”
Some believe Collaros has bulked up too much in recent years limiting his mobility, but he claims he hasn’t added much weight since arriving at UC.
“I came here weighing 205, and I weighed in at 218 today,” he said.
There’s no debating Collaros looks more like a linebacker than a quarterback, and that’s because he’s no stranger to the weight room.
“I enjoy working out and enjoy the weight room. It’s my release from things sometimes. Maybe I’ve gotten too big. I don’t know, but I like staying in shape. I think it’s good.”
Collaros is one of only two elected captains on the squad (JK Schaffer being the other), and his selection was unanimous. The offensive linemen readily identified their signal caller as the toughest man on the team. The senior explained what that meant to him.
“That goes back to my being in the weight room with those guys,” he said. “I’ve been roommates with Alex Hoffman since my freshman year.” Collaros then hesitated to quickly collect himself. “I don’t want to get emotional here, but I love those guys like brothers. I mean that. They’ve been around me and know my mentality. They know how I approach practice and prepare for games, and they know I will do anything to win. The fact that they feel that way about me means the world to me.”
Although Collaros loves being a Bearcat, he also hates being so far from home.
“I don’t like being four and a half hours from home,” he said. “I love my family, and I’m still very close to all my high school friends. I talk to my coaches back home at least once a week. I’m a homebody. I like being around people that care about me.”
Collaros was also a skilled baseball player in high school. Marshall even offered him a full scholarship, but after playing one year for the Bearcat baseball team, he decided to give up the game.
“When Coach Jones got here, he told me I could play, but he also said he didn’t want me to. I wanted to be a leader of this team and to know the offense inside and out. I felt I had to give it up, and I wouldn’t change it because I love football and I love these guys.”
If Collaros has any regrets, it’s that one of his buddies is no longer protecting him.
“Me and (Jason) Kelce were joined at the hip both on and off the field,” said Collaros. “I probably spent fourteen hours a day with that guy, but it’s great to be able to watch him now with the (Philadelphia) Eagles. I talked to him yesterday, and it’s surreal that one of my best friends is now snapping the ball to Michael Vick. I feel like a proud parent when I watch him on TV.”
The success of the 2011 Cincinnati football team and Zach Collaros are also joined at the hip, and if the UC signal caller can have a big final season, the Bearcats could surprise everyone and return to a January bowl game.