Backup QB role another bump in Collins' road

For former Penn State All-American Kerry Collins, his career in the National Football League has been a matter of dealing with the ups and downs.

Fortunately for Collins, although he faced some bumps in the road along the way, there have been a lot more ups than downs in the past 10 years.

"I feel like the guy who went through all of the problems possible six or seven years ago," said Collins, who is in his first season with the Oakland Raiders. "But now, I am a much different guy than I was then. I have learned so much about the game and my role in the game, and in life. I have made many changes, all for the positive. I am proud of where I am now and proud of where I am going. I got a lot of help from a lot of people and fortunately for me, I was able to turn things around. Right now, I am just excited about the future."

While attending Wilson High in Reading, Collins earned numerous accolades in not one or two, but three sports. He earned all-state status in football and basketball and was an all-county selection in baseball. In the Major League Baseball draft, he was chosen in the 26th round by the Detroit Tigers in 1990 and in the 58th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1994.

Although his future participation in athletics existed in all three sports, Collins went with his first love and chose Penn State for football and the rest is pretty much history.

Playing during the glory days in Happy Valley, Collins had many big moments while leading the Nittany Lions to a perfect 12-0 mark in 1994, capped by a 38-20 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

At the end of the season, he was chosen as the winner of the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top college quarterback, the Maxwell award as the nation's outstanding player and was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

"That was the highlight of my life," Collins said about the 1994 campaign. "There are several big moments that stick out during that season. We had some memorable games like going to Michigan on a great Saturday and having a great game against Ohio State on Homecoming day. There were just a lot of positive things that happened and a lot of good memories that I remember from my senior year."

Although standing on the opposite side of Heinz Field during the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24-21 win over Oakland on Sunday, former Nittany Lion teammate Jeff Hartings, the starting center for the Steelers, recalled a few of those memories shared by Collins.

"The thing I remember about Kerry is that he was a very smart quarterback with a strong arm," recalled Hartings. "Nobody could effectively blitz us because if they tried, he somehow would always find the open guy right away. We made a living on that and watching him since he got into the NFL, he has continued to do the same thing. He is going to get another opportunity and before it is over, I think Oakland is going to be very glad to have picked him up."

During his 9-year pro career, Collins had stints with the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants. In those nine seasons, he was a starter in 123 of 129 games.

However, now with Oakland, Collins' role has changed as he finds himself as a backup to Rich Gannon.

"I am in a situation that I want to help any way I can," said Collins. "I try to help Rich (Gannon), the receivers and just getting the guys going. That type of thing is hard to do when you are a starter. When I was with the (New York) Giants, I learned to be a good backup. Whatever my role turns out to be, I just want to help this team be victorious."

The transition also changed his weekly preparation for games.

"Obviously the biggest difference is that you don't get the number of reps as you would as a starter to help you get ready for the game," Collins said. "You have to know your plays and concentrate much more on the mental part of the game by trying to visualize the plays you would have to execute if you get the chance to get into the game. It is a different type of preparation and I honestly think it takes more time as a backup than it does as a starter. Because you don't get in there as much, you really have to do your homework during the week."

Although he had an excellent training camp, Collins understood his position for the regular season.

"They told me coming into it that Rich (Gannon) was going to be the starter and that I would be the backup," he said. "They let me know that they were excited about the opportunities in the future for me. That was clear from day one and that never wavered. Although I had a good camp, I knew that was the way things were going to be. That gave me time to study the playbook and learn the plays because I knew that I wasn't going to get a lot of reps during the season. I think it was definitely a productive camp for me and right now, I am in a supportive role right now and I am going to do the best job I can."

Every NFL player has to look ahead at life after football at some point. In Collins' case, he knows exactly where he is headed.

"I married a woman from North Carolina and we spend our off-season there," Collins said. "I actually bought a large working cattle farm back there, that is where my heart is and that is where I'll be when it is all said and done. My wife and I have a little 7-month old girl and right now, it is a nice getaway for me. Although I still feel like I have a few good years left, I am excited about my family and my life after football. I am looking forward to it."