When the cart came for Zach Collaros on the Paul Brown Stadium field last November, Collaros was pretty sure of a couple things.
That his ankle was broken. And that his football career was over.
"I cried on the field," Collaros said. "I really thought it was my last time playing football, and it was emotional for me. I love the game. Later when I found out I'd have a chance to come back, I was going to make the most of it. I have to credit our training staff (at the University of Cincinnati) for helping me.
"I'm just grateful I got one last chance in the bowl game. After that, I gave it some thought and decided to give this a shot. I didn't want to look back 20 years from now and regret not giving the NFL a go."
He's beat the odds before, and his quicker than expected return to start at quarterback in Cincinnati's Liberty Bowl win over Vanderbilt provided a fitting end to a remarkable college career. A guy who had just one other football scholarship offer, from Kent State, and originally planned to play college baseball ended up helping Cincinnati to an unbeaten regular season and Big East title in 2009 and accounting for 57 total touchdowns over his final three seasons.
This week marks the start of the next stage of Collaros' career in football, whatever it may be. He's a late-round prospect in the NFL Draft, probably a longshot to be drafted, and hopeful he'll be in some NFL team's rookie minicamp in early May. His future, eventually, is going to be in coaching, but he wants the first headset he wears to be that of an NFL quarterback talking to his offensive coordinator.
"Being counted out or not being on top of anybody's draft list, my track record says that's not going to bother me," Collaros said. "I went through the same thing coming out of high school. I've always used it as motivation. Lots of people have doubted my abilities, but I've never been one of them."
"I debated back (in December and January) about what was going to be next for me. I've talked to Coach (Butch) Jones about my future and I decided to go through this process. Coach Jones told me this would be a very helpful thing, meeting people and seeing the NFL up close.
"This whole thing will be good for me, long term, no matter what happens. But I definitely want to keep playing. Wearing an NFL uniform has always been a dream."
Collaros said he'll watch Thursday night's first round of the draft like he always has. By the time Saturday and the final four rounds come he plans to be home in Steubenville, surrounded by friends and family and awaiting whatever call might come his way.
From January until Cincinnati's formal pro day in early March, Collaros trained at Ignition at Cincinnati with many of his former UC teammates. Since then, he's been working out on campus, throwing with former Bearcats and current Bengals receivers Armon Binns and Vidal Hazelton.
Collaros knows he's a spread-offense, read-option quarterback who's now being evaluated and projected by NFL standards. Though he said he's "probably too slow" to attempt a position change, he's not afraid to put his helmet on and line up wherever he's asked -- just as long as some NFL team will provide the helmet and the chance. He played both quarterback and safety on two state championship teams at Steubenville High School, and he ran for 16 touchdowns in his college career, including 8 last season.
He measured at 5-foot-11 and 3/4 at Cincinnati's pro day, and he's weighing anywhere between 216 and 220. He's been in contact with "six or seven teams" over the last month or so, swapping draft-day contact information and throwing to former UC tight end Adrien Robinson in pre-draft workouts when NFL teams have asked.
"I don't want to say which teams I've talked to; I don't want to jinx it in case any of them actually like me," he joked. "I just try to stay optimistic and hope for an opportunity.
"The scouts I've talked with have been pretty straightforward with me about things. I know I'm a little under 6-foot and that's too small for a lot of teams, but it only takes one. They all know how much I love the game of football. I'm just excited for whatever opportunities football still has for me." (foxsportsohio.com)
*Good Luck Zach at the NFL Draft this weekend