The entire nation has had a chance to witness the emergence of receiving phenomenon Austin Collie. The Indianapolis Colts rookie took the national football scene by storm in 2008 as a junior at BYU and on Sunday will take the ultimate step in a football career by participating in Super Bowl XLIV.
But he wasn’t always the nation’s leading college receiver or the fantastic rookie receiver helping lead the Colts into the NFL’s biggest game. Once, not too long ago, Collie was just another eager high school football player, one his former coach remembers could carry the entire team to victory.
“Austin was the best player on the field, without a doubt,” said Chris Jones, Collie’s former head coach at Oak Ridge High School, currently the head football coach at Vista del Lago High. “He was a great competitor, a great leader, and an extremely hard worker. Those qualities were and still continue to be a recipe for success at any level. When your best player is your best leader and also your hardest worker, you generally are going to have some success, and we were fortunate to have a cast around him that flourished under his guidance.”
Jones, who was the head coach at Oak Ridge from 2000-2007, oversaw Collie’s growth as a player, but also got to see his program grow with Collie’s leadership. The Trojans won the 2002 and 2003 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championships with Collie on the field, and Jones credits the former high school superstar for much of the success.
“He made others around him better,” Jones said. “As a person, he was a guy that I just loved to death. He comes from a great family that is very supportive, and he was a guy that we as coaches could challenge to improve and be better.”
Collie was an every down player for the Trojans. From catching passes on offense to intercepting them on defense, he was everywhere on the field. He lined up in multiple positions for Jones’ schemes, and always wanted the ball in his hands. He was a high school coach’s dream.
“Austin was so much fun to coach in high school,” Jones said. “He literally played every play of the game. He was a wide receiver and defensive back. He was our kicker and punter. He returned punts and kicks. We threw it to him and handed it to him. We wanted the ball in his hands as much as possible.
“Once he got his hands on the ball was when the fun started. We would sit back and watch, sometimes laugh, at what he did. He was a nightmare to defend because we lined him up all over the place. It is because of this that he made others around him better.”
Collie didn’t shy away from contact, but he was known for juking defenders out of their cleats. A man on a mission, teams did everything they could to keep the ball out of Collie’s hands. It never worked.
“Austin scored touchdowns just about every way possible,” Jones said. “Our best coaching move was to line him up as the punter. We would tell him to run the ball if he thought he could make it, and sure enough, he did. I think he scored four touchdowns from the punter position, which just breaks a defense.”
And now, he’s making his mark on the NFL’s biggest stage. The once bright-eyed high school football player has grown into an elite athlete playing on Sundays.
“This year has been so much fun to watch,” Jones said. “I just love the fact that the NFL Channel will replay games and that the Colts have been on TV so much. I love watching the games with my friends and family.”
But maybe he’s not that different than the kid that used to torch opponents in the Sacramento area after all.
“What is really great is that Austin still seems like he is a little kid, being a rookie in a great setting,” Jones said. “I still think of him in some ways as an 18-year-old high school senior. On the other hand, he has grown up tremendously on and off the field. He is well spoken and a great person. He has a great wife and a supportive family, which is great for him.”
And if all goes well Sunday, he might have a Super Bowl ring, too.