Collins Risked Football Career When Family Came First
Football and roses are a big deal in Tyler, Texas.
Tyler is the birthplace of NFL Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell (a city Parkway is named after Campbell, who was also known as “The Tyler Rose”) and current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“We live football, we breathe football,” said Eskimos receiver Ricky Collins, Jr., 27. “All we know is football in East Texas.”
With football so ingrained in both his life and the community of 100,000 people, imagine how difficult it was for Collins to leave the Midwestern State University football team in mid-season after his father suffered a stroke in 2012.
“At the time I made the decision, I really didn’t care,” said Collins, who put family first. “I left and went back home to help take care of him and the family. It was really to help my Pops for him taking care of me when I was younger.
“I was helping out financially and being a caretaker for him.”
Collins, who was one of six siblings and also the father of two young children of his own at the time, got a graveyard shift stocking shelves at a local Walmart to help support both families. He now has three kids – Bae-Shen, 8, Brynlee, 5, and Maddi, 4.
“Once he got healthy, we talked about me getting back into football,” Collins said. “He really influenced me to go back to school and finish playing.”
Ricky Collins, Sr., and his wife, Carolyn, were in attendance at the Eskimos’ first two home games at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium this season.
It wasn’t an easy road for Collins to return to college. With the help of a good friend, who was a quarterback at Texas A&M-Commerce, he was able to contact the team’s head coach, who had previously tried to recruit him for a different school after his two seasons of junior college.
Unfortunately, he had to sit out a season as a redshirt player before he could play at the NCAA Division II school and that meant no scholarship money for the first year.
“I was struggling to make ends meet,” admitted Collins, who had to rely upon thousands of dollars of school loans until he was rewarded with a scholarship for his senior year.
It was a different story on the field. Collins was a star in nine of the 10 Thursday night scrimmage sessions for the 60 or so players who wouldn’t be playing in that weekend’s games during his redshirt year with the Lions.
“I was just treating it as my football game,” he said. “I was just making sure that I was on point with everything when it was my turn to play.”
When he finally got to play for real, Collins’ senior year also went well. He finished with 71 catches for 1,187 yards and a school-record 14 touchdowns, including a 77-yard pass-and-run scoring play, and started to attract some attention from the NFL scouts. A former quarterback while growing up, he also threw a 44-yard TD pass on a trick play that season.
Texas A&M-Commerce won its opening game in 2014 with a record-breaking 13 TDs, 98 points and 986 yards of offence against East Texas Baptist.
Collins had played baseball until age 10 or 11 when one of his sisters and his father introduced him to football. He started out as a QB and running back, eventually got moved to safety, and finally became a receiver in his senior year of high school.
An undrafted NFL free agent, Collins had an opportunity with the Green Bay Packers until he tore a hip flexor during the spring practices in 2015. From there, he played with the Brooklyn Bolts in the Experimental Football League, which led to an invitation to a CFL rookie mini-camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2016.
“If it wasn’t for me playing in the XFL, I wouldn’t be in the CFL right now,” he said.
Winnipeg didn’t keep Collins around, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders picked him up for training camp, and he produced 48 receptions for 720 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games.
A shoulder injury in the 2017 season-opener momentarily derailed his career, as the Riders eventually traded him to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who released Collins after several weeks without him even playing a game.
But he missed only one game last year with the BC Lions, caught 60 passes for 611 yards and two majors, and led the team with five catches for 95 yards in their lone playoff game.
This season, Collins has 18 receptions for 293 yards – including 175 yards against the Montreal Alouettes in the season opener and 107 yards against the Bombers in the third game – although he still hasn’t found the end zone.
“I think I made it,” said Collins, who joined his fifth CFL team in four years when he signed with the Eskimos during that crazy first day of free agency on Feb. 12th.
“I was the last one on Day 1 to send in their contract as far as me, Greg (Ellingson), DeVaris (Daniels) and then Trevor (Harris),” Collins said. “I was just sitting back and seeing all these players go.
“I wanted a team that would be able to make something happen and just be a part of what they’re trying to make it. I’m more than happy with the decision. We have a good core group of guys. We have a solid team.
“We have a great receiving corps, and then we have Trevor Harris. He’s one of the more accurate passers in the CFL.”