Oct. 3, 2012
By: Kyle Neaves, Assistant Director of Athletic Media Relations
As a Division I football player, it's pretty tough to blend in around town, at the grocery store or any of the other hundreds of places you and I go on a daily basis. Jane and Joe Doe can do it, but when you're 6-foot-4, 240 lbs., and are considered one of the top NFL defensive prospects in the nation with freakish athleticism and natural playmaking ability, well, you can just about forget about hiding out.
Tougher still is to remain humble, introspective, and modest when you wield all of those talents to destructive precision every weekend of the college football season. Yet Jamie Collins has managed to maintain a sense of self throughout his Golden Eagle career, even when everyone else was telling him what was still to come.
A two-spot star at Franklin County High School, Collins wowed Bulldog fans from an early age. On the gridiron, he was a dominant quarterback and hard-hitting safety. On the hardwood, Collins could jump out of the gym and finish in the paint with authority. And when colleges came calling, no one was surprised. Why should they be? After all, he was a man among boys out there which made blending in that much harder.
"I owe everything to my sister," Collins said, the youngest of four brothers, potentially the only time in his life he was ever considered the baby. "She bent her back for me and my brothers. She raised all of us and I would not be the person I am today without her."
Collins' sister, Lisa Adams, played the most pivotal role in his development after the star defensive end lost both of his parents at the age of six. Sense of family, purpose and all the things that come with it, are paramount beliefs to the McCall Creek native and was one of the biggest factors that led him to Southern Miss.
Originally, he offered his commitment to Auburn, but a coaching change following the 2008 campaign left Collins with an interest in searching elsewhere. Former linebackers coach David Duggan, now at North Carolina, was in charge of Collins' recruitment to Southern Miss and even while he was pledged to go elsewhere, Duggan was relentless in pursuing the two-way football star. For Collins, Duggan ultimately served a purpose greater than that of a football coach.
"Coach Duggan stayed on my butt," Collins said through a smile. "He stayed on me and really showed me that he cared about me. I talked to my family about it and they felt good about me coming up here. When I got here, Coach Duggan hadn't changed. He was still calling me and talking to me a lot so I knew he was really looking out for me and trying to be there for me. There's a real family atmosphere at Southern Miss that I don't think you can find anywhere else."
When Collins hit the Hattiesburg campus, along with 24 other signees in the 2009 class, he felt just like any other freshman - not sure where his place was on the team or what he was capable of. Through the tutelage and support of teammates like Chico Hunter, Justin Wilson, Martez Smith and others, Collins molded himself into the player he is today.
Though he played right away as a freshman, Collins admits his youth and maturity level hindered his development, but in 2010, as he moved closer and closer to the line of scrimmage, he found himself doing things other players of the field were otherwise incapable of doing.
"Coach Duggan was always telling me that I could be more than just an average player," Collins noted. "I really had to lock down and think about it and realize what he was saying. I looked at other players around me and learned from what they were doing and the field and it all seemed to hit me at once."
Now, as a senior and undoubtedly one of the faces of the Golden Eagle football team - whether he prefers that notoriety or not - Collins realizes and accepts his role both in and outside of the locker room. Four years seems like an eternity for some, but it is just the blink of an eye for a boy to become a man.
"I've done a lot of things here at Southern Miss and I don't take anything for granted," a reflective Collins said. "It's the place to be. It's all about family. Playing college football here is a privilege and everyone is watching you. It's the best part - being on the big stage."
Among his teammates, Collins is revered as a leader by example and he's just fine with that image.
"I've never had a time where someone hasn't been there for me - and for the younger guys, that's a tradition we need to keep going," Collins said. "You just have to do the right things around the guys, nothing crazy or bad. Setting an example and being positive - no negativity - is important. It's hard but you have to take advantage of that and do the best you can. You don't want the younger guys going down the wrong path."
Collins would have you believe that he's quiet, shy, and guarded. But, that can't be the case. Can it? For anyone else in his position, with his God-given abilities, surely the star power would shine through and the personality would become bigger than the man. With Collins, though, that doesn't appear to be the case. Maybe he figured out how to blend in after all.
Through four games in the 2012 season, Collins has tallied a team-best 35 tackles (20 solos) to go along with 7.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, marks that rank him among the nation's best. He was also a pre-season watch list candidate for numerous national awards including the Rotary Lombardi, Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski trophies.
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