EAST LANSING – Following a breakout season where Elijah Collins ran for 988 yards and five touchdowns, the Detroit native felt primed for another.
But with a new offensive staff, Collins managed just 41 carries for 90 yards.
The 6-foot-1 running back hit holes with less speed, power, and agility, leaving fans wondering one question: What happened?
An individual close to him tested positive for COVID-19 last summer, and after completing a two-week quarantine, Collins contracted the virus himself, he said Tuesday afternoon.
"It took a toll on me back then," said Collins. "I lost weight, muscle, wind, all of that stuff. It really took a deep effect."
Collins decided not to address his struggles publicly but disclosed he was diagnosed with the coronavirus before last season.
"It was probably one of the most challenging things that I've ever had to deal with. A lot of things in my life tend to go right, so for something to go so drastically wrong, it was a lot to deal with," Collins said. "But I was able to get through it because I had my family and my friends around me."
As Michigan State prepared for a pandemic-shortened schedule with a new head coach, many thought Collins would be consistent, even if the rest of the offense were figuring itself out.
Yet, he missed out on a month of workouts and was behind schedule before the Spartans ever kicked off against Rutgers.
And when the day finally came, Collins didn't look like himself, nor did he start, netting three yards on nine carries in the loss.
"Around that time when the season had started, I was not ready to go … In my head, I was thinking I was, but looking back, I wasn't," Collins said.
It wasn't until late in the year that Collins started to find his rhythm posting season-highs in back-to-back weeks with 13 carries vs. Northwestern and 37 yards against Ohio State.
"I started to feel as if I was getting back to (myself) towards the end of the season. That's why you didn't really see me too much last year," said Collins. "I was giving everything I had, but I really didn't have too much to give."
Now, MSU is through 13 spring practices, and with the help of Mel Tucker, Collins said he is refocused and ready for the competition transfer Kenneth Walker III brings.
"Elijah's a different person this spring," Michigan State running backs coach William Peagler said. "I've seen a totally different kid, different back, and he's really done a really good job. He's always been very, very coachable. Just some things last season maybe weren't as easy as they had been previously, but he's starting to get back to that."
However, regaining his role as the starter won't be easy. Walker is a seasoned veteran who features big-play abilities. Jordon Simmons led the Spartans and impressed last season.
Heyward isn't going anywhere, plus Davion Primm (freshman) and Harold Joiner III (Auburn transfer) are set to join the program later this year.
Though, Collins is up to the task.
"I'm extremely excited because, for me, I live for moments like this. I live for moments where I get to go out there and just show people what I'm capable of doing," said Collins. "I always can do more work, but I really think I work really hard. For me, it's like I can go out there and just show y'all what I'm capable of doing and get back to where I was."
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