As others weighed in with advice on how to best navigate his future, Michael Collins was always firmly behind the wheel. After his freshman season Collins seemed primed to take over as the quarterback at the University of Pennsylvania.
How, even some in Collins’ inner circle wondered, could anyone reconsider the prospect of being a three-year starter for an Ivy League team?
But Collins always thought his career GPS needed to be rerouted. He felt capable of playing at the highest level. He thirsted for the challenge.
Collins never wanted to confront two words in future private moments.
So Collins decided to turn his back on relative security and transfer to TCU. Though Collins had a heralded career at New Canaan, many no doubt wondered if he was overreaching.
“I had a lot of people try to talk me out of it, saying do you realize what you’re giving up, but in the end I was happier this way,” Collins said. “I didn’t want to look back and have any regrets so I made the decision.”
Collins’ self-confidence has proved spot on. While it is believed Shawn Robinson has a slight edge, Collins, after having to sit out last season, has played himself into contention for the starting job.
TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie said Collins has a legitimate chance to take the team’s first snap in the Sept. 1 opener against Southern University.
“We will alternate days in fall camp with Shawn and Michael getting reps with the ones and the twos until we feel one guy has separated himself and then give him the one reps,” Cumbie said during a telephone call this afternoon.
Collins’ belief dates back to his senior year at New Canaan, when he rewrote the state record book for the most touchdown passes in a season and led the team to a CIAC title for the second straight time. He worked with former NFL quarterback J.P. Losman, who felt Collins was capable of playing for a top 10 program.
“I showed up and I always thought I could play at this level,” Collins said. “I think I was under recruited but that’s just the way things shook out. I wanted to go to Penn so I don’t blame anybody for that. I thought about it before signing day but there were still no opportunities so I said alright. I talked to my parents about it and I said I’ll go to Penn and see how it goes and then I will think about it.
“Once I got here I thought I fit right in and was always looking to get better,” Collins added. “Everyone’s good on this level so it’s not like you are going to be 50 percent better than another quarterback. It’s all about who’s doing the little things right. That’s really been the focus since I got here.”
As Collins went through his second recruiting process, he made an immediate impression on Cumbie.
“You watch him throw and it takes about three throws to say ‘Wow, he can really throw it,’ ” Cumbie said. “The two things that really stand out is, one, he obviously loves football. He’s very passionate about it. The other is he really relates well with the rest of his teammates. He has a quiet confidence about him.”
Collins spent his year off as the scout team quarterback, taking every opportunity to learn and improve while making an impression on the coaching staff.
“I think I have gotten a lot stronger,” Collins said. “I think the weight program here at TCU is great. I think I’ve gotten a lot more knowledge studying with coach Cumbie. Going against (head) coach (Gary) Patterson’s defense on scout team, I think that helped me a lot to grow last year, just to get different looks and run various offenses.”
Collins was home for about two weeks in late May before heading back to school. He has been working out with the team, lifting, doing speed and agility drills, 7 on 7 work and watching film. One of his training partners is former New Canaan teammate Lucas Niang, a starting lineman who could again be lining up in front of Collins.
“His work ethic is incredible,” Cumbie said. “In the weight room. And he throws the ball great and with accuracy. He’s worked to improve himself athletically, and he was a good athlete to begin with.”
Just as he put in the time to prove he belongs at TCU, Collins is now showing the same focus to be QB1.
“I’m just making sure I do everything right,” Collins said. “The way I treat my body, film study and just making sure I am practicing right, working out and everything. Just making sure all my ducks are in a row before going to camp. I have no issues and I’m ready to go full throttle. I’m looking forward to camp. It will be fun to compete. Just to get back on the football field will be fun.”
It has been a circuitous road and Collins said there was just one moment of doubt, and that was before he made his first trip to TCU as a member of the team.
“Maybe in the few weeks leading up to coming down here it was like ‘Oh, gosh, did I do the right thing?’ ” Collins recalled. “Ever since I’ve been here I’ve loved it and haven’t looked back.”
And Collins will never have to ask himself what if.