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It's All Roses for Collins

January 03, 2002|Gary Klein

Thunder Collins was reared 10 blocks from USC, dreaming of one day carrying the ball for the Trojans in the Rose Bowl. Collins will be on the field at the Rose Bowl today, but he'll be running the ball for Nebraska in the bowl championship series national championship game against Miami.

"It's funny how things work out," said Collins, a junior running back who played at Manual Arts High and East Los Angeles College before joining the Cornhuskers. "It's kind of hard to believe I'm going to be playing in Pasadena for Nebraska."

Collins, 6-feet-2 and 190 pounds, has rushed for 647 yards this season, third among the Cornhuskers behind starting I-back Dahrran Diedrick, who rushed for a Big 12 Conference-best 1,299 yards, and quarterback Eric Crouch, the Heisman Trophy winner who rushed for 1,115. Collins also is third on the team in receptions with 19 for 189 yards.

"Thunder's built more like a wide receiver rather than the typical big pounding backs that maybe Nebraska has had, but he has developed into a very tough player for us," Coach Frank Solich said.

Collins pretty much had to become tough, growing up with Thunder as his given name. Collins' father also is named Thunder.

Since arriving in Los Angeles on Dec. 24, Nebraska has practiced almost daily at USC's Howard Jones Field, the same place Collins played pick-up games with friends in elementary school and junior high.

Washington State offered him a scholarship after he'd gained more than 1,000 yards his senior year at Manual Arts, but he fell short of a qualifying score on the SAT. Collins played at East L.A. College in 1998 and was named a junior college All-American after rushing for 1,548 yards, catching passes for 600 more, and scoring 23 touchdowns.

Dave Gillespie, who coaches Nebraska's running backs, said the Cornhuskers often steer clear of junior college players but that it was difficult to ignore the tape of Collins coaches at East L.A. had sent to Lincoln, Neb.

Collins redshirted his sophomore year while completing work for an associate arts degree at West L.A. College, then transferred to Nebraska in 2000. Last season, he played in three games and gained 77 yards.

Collins' 2001 season appeared in jeopardy when he was arrested in Lincoln in June for allegedly assaulting a girlfriend and Nebraska basketball player Shannon Howell. Charges against Collins were dropped when he agreed to enter a pretrial diversion program. He played in all 12 games.

*

Nebraska, which lost to Colorado in its regular-season finale, 62-36, has not lost consecutive games since the 1990 season, when the Cornhuskers lost to Oklahoma, 45-10, then were defeated by Georgia Tech in the 1991 Citrus Bowl, 45-21.

Gary Klein

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