NEW CANAAN — Michael Collins has had many demanding teachers at New Canaan High School, but none like the volunteer assistant who came into his life weeks before the start of this season.
There would be no showing up late, no absences, nothing less than a 100 percent commitment. One tardiness meant a failing grade, and the teacher essentially closing the classroom door.
If the demands seemed excessive, they were. Then again, when you are a quarterback looking to master your craft, and the instructor is a former first-round NFL draft pick, it is easy to make the necessary level of dedication.
When offensive coordinator John Marinelli left the Rams in the offseason to take the coaching job at Greenwich, there was admittedly a void for Collins. That has been partially filled by working the past three months with J.P. Losman, whose eight-year professional football career ended in 2011 with the Dolphins.
“When I first found out I couldn’t believe I was going to get help from a former first-round quarterback,” Collins said. “I’m fortunate to be in the position.”
Losman has been a familiar presence on the sideline at New Canaan games all season but few are familiar with the work he has done with Collins, who is having a record-breaking season, or his close relationship both with the quarterback and the program.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Losman said. “My high school coach, he goes, ‘J.P., you are going to get sucked in.’ Michael is a special, special kid. He got my attention and really sucked me in.”
Losman’s relationship with the Rams this season is rooted in part by happenstance. The No. 22 pick in the 2004 draft by the Bills — who traded up to get him — Losman moved to New Canaan in February. A real estate developer, he had no intentions of getting involved with the local high school program even though his college center at Tulane is friends with Chris Silvestri, the Rams’ defensive coordinator.
“I had two or three people approach me and I guess Sly must have been asking,” recalled Losman, referring to Silvestri by his nickname. “Then one of the neighbors on my street said you should talk to the coach there, there’s a kid who really needs your help. They think he’s a really top player. Nobody told me a kid, I just thought they wanted help with the offense. I said there were so many coaches who helped me along the way. Let me give the kid a shot depending on his mindset.”
Silvestri set up a meeting between the two — without telling Collins who would be joining them. When both arrived, Silvestri said he departed.
Collins admitted, “I had to look him up to find out who he is.”
Losman set firm ground rules. With limited discretionary time, he was only going to get involved if Collins was a willing student. It didn’t take Losman time to get the answer.
“We had a practice together first to see if this would be a good fit,” Losman said. “After the workout I said this kid is good. He’s really good. With a little bit of help he could be great.”
The relationship has blossomed. Collins has thrown for 46 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He tied the state record with nine scoring passes in a win over Trumbull. He is five touchdowns away from tying the single-season state record of 51, set by Woodland’s Tanner Kingsley in 2012. He has been rewriting the team record book along the way.
“J.P. was very hesitant at first and then he met with Mike,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “It started off he was hands off and it seems like each week he’s gotten more and more involved. It has been a really interesting dynamic.”
Losman and Collins meet on Sundays and again early in the week, watching film, going over game plans and fine-tuning the nuances that can take a quarterback to the next level. Losman attends a practice later in the week.
“The first two practices are all mental,” Losman said. “Then I come in and fine-tune and do some tweaking, or offer some helpful hints. But the whole week I am really focusing on Mike’s footwork, his fundamentals, shoulder placement, his elbow and his accuracy. We work on his reads. How do we make the reads easier for him? How do we get the receivers open so Mike can throw with confidence and accuracy?”
Losman soon discovered it would be helpful to spend some time with the New Canaan receivers, but he was reticent of being perceived as looking to take over the offense.
“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes, and tell me if I am out of line,” Losman said. “Coaching gets a little intense. It could have gotten heated but there have been no arguments at any time.”
Losman has spent time consulting with Dante Correnty, the Rams’ new offensive coordinator, and Kevin Macari, the quarterbacks coach.
“We all know who is calling the shots,” Losman said. “It is Dante’s offense. I make suggestions saying this is what Mike thinks so this might work because he thinks this way. It makes it really really special when the kids are good and the coaches are great. It’s why we’re doing it. It’s fun.”
Collins said the presence of Losman has made not working anymore with John Marinelli easier to handle.
“Obviously they have very different roles,” Collins said. “I’m still close with Johnny. I work really well with Kevin Macari. J.P. has been a great addition.”
Lou Marinelli said Losman has helped not only the entire program, but given him an additional perspective as a coach.
“He’s been great,” Marinelli said. “His whole approach to helping our kids has been interesting to see. To see a guy who has been at the top level of football and how he breaks things down is interesting. J.P. sees things but doesn’t know our terminology, so Dante becomes the translator. He translates what (Losman) sees into our system. He enjoys working with Mike and Mike really respects him, so that has been great. I’ve learned a lot.”
While Marinelli hopes that Losman will continue to work with the Rams beyond this season, Losman said that might have to wait.
“I don’t want to get sucked in because I have a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old who will be playing New Canaan Pee Wee and Pop Warner so I know I am going to get sucked into it then,” Losman said. “I think the next few years I am going to need a little bit of a break because in the next few years I am going to get into it hard-core.”