STILLWATER -- It was a cloudy and humid Saturday morning in Tyler, Texas at the practice field for legendary high school football program Tyler John Tyler. This is the high school where Earl Campbell became the "Tyler Rose" on his way to winning the 1977 Heisman Trophy at Texas. The Lions practice field was crowded with coaches from no less than a dozen colleges, most of them Division I schools. Working out on both sides of the ball as a jumbo receiver and as a big safety was Zaven Collins, who made the trip down from Hominy, Okla. Collins was a 6-4, 210-pound quarterback and safety that a lot of schools weren't sure what he would wind up playing. His forty time that day was in the 4.8 range. He wasn't a quarterback, but he was something.
Give the University of Tulsa credit as they saw that something and now Zaven Collins is a 6-4, 260-pound weak-side linebacker and edge rusher. Athletic enough to cover some larger receivers and tight ends and good enough to go after the quarterback and eithermake it difficult or put him on his back. He has 182 career tackles as a junior with 17.5 tackles-for-loss, and 3.5 sacks. He has defended six passes, recovered two fumbles, forced one, intercepted a pass, and blocked two kicks.
“I just go out there every day and work as hard as I can,” Collins said to The Tulsa World this preseason. “In everything I do, I give maximum effort and nothing less. I do that every day in workouts, every day in meetings.”
"He just kept growing," University of Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery told Pokes Report last week. "We weren't sure what he would play but when he got here he kept getting bigger but stayed agile and he has found his place. He is a tremendous talent and can cover a lot of ground. He can play on the line of scrimmage, back on the second level, even drop in coverage. He does a lot for us and I think you are right. He will play in the NFL.”
His position coach and defensive coordinator knows that the defense for the Golden Hurricane needs to feature him, needs to put him in position to make game changing and momentum building plays. The former gymnast as a kid that wants to be a doctor may need to put his medical school on hold because he will have a chance to play in the NFL.
“Not only does he have his God-given gifts and abilities and his work ethic is second to none, he is not going to be outworked. And then at the same time he wants knowledge and he knows he needs knowledge,” Tulsa defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Joseph Gillespie said to The Tulsa World. “You start putting the knowledge and the experience with it, I think his level of play will go through the roof to a whole different degree.”
The Golden Hurricane doesn't return a lot of players on defense, but there is at least one starter back at each level of the defense. Collins, who was coming off of a monster tooth ache last season when he played against the Cowboys is really looking forward to the challenge of leading his teammates against the likes of running back Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace and all the Cowboys receivers, quarterback Spencer Sanders, and the players up front for the Pokes. Collins will be the key player for Tulsa's hopes of curtailing the OSU offense enough to stay in the game.
“He’s got to step his game up even more,” Montgomery said to The Tulsa World. “You’ve got to remember he’s been playing linebacker for only three years. He was a quarterback and a free safety in high school. He’s still learning the position. He’s still got a high ceiling, in my opinion, and obviously he’s got some God-given tools that he’s taken advantage of.”
Oklahoma State needs to know where Collins is. He will need some help, but there is no reason for the Cowboys to give the best defensive player for the Hurricane a chance to show his teammates the way to slowing down an Oklahoma State offense that is ready to explode and there is no need for Collins big frame to get any shot at a big blow on the Cowboys playmakers.