Friday, 16 September 2016

Austin Collie: Catching the ball, just like dad

The first time I saw him haul in a pass from Peyton Manning for my beloved Colts, I wondered something about Austin Collie: was he related to Scott Collie?

Austin Collie in his Indianapolis Colts days.
He was born in Canada, to CFL
player Scott Collie, and
would eventually follow his father's
footsteps into the CFL with the B.C. Lions.
Austin Collie with the B.C. Lions in 2015, throwing a rare pass.
In a journey that began in a hospital in Hamilton, Austin Collie was not only Scott Collie’s son, but he would follow a circuitous path that led him to play in the same cities his dad played in 30 years ago.

Austin Collie, who retired as a wide receiver for the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League before the beginning of this season, is one of many players with a CFL pedigree. This time, he followed in his father’s shoes.

North to Hamilton
Scott Collie grew up in San Jose, California and played his college football at Brigham Young University in Utah, which has been a haven and a factory for football players, especially quarterbacks and possession receivers. The school has produced a lot of great players for both the CFL and NFL, including quarterbacks such as Jim McMahon, Mark Wilson, and Steve Young, as well as receivers such as Ben Cahoon and Dennis Pitta.

Scott Collie graduated from BYU after four seasons, that included catching a few passes from Steve Young, from 1979 to 1982. In his junior year he played in 12 games where he had 26 receptions for 404 yards and three touchdowns. It was by far his best season in college. He returned for his senior year, where he played in six games, catching 16 passes for 282 yards and one touchdown.

He tried his hand in the NFL, with a stint in San Francisco, but just could not catch on, playing in the pre-season in 1983 but that was all.

So he headed north to play with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That’s where I picked up his trail. Collie was a good route runner with sure hands – the epitome of a possession receiver. He played two seasons in Hamilton, in 1983 and 1985. He was part of those teams that started to win the East and go to the Grey Cup.

In 1983, he played in five games, making 11 receptions for 152 yards and two touchdowns. He also played well in the Eastern Final, as illustrated by these two video clips.

There is no record I could find that Scott Collie played in 1984, and I checked out the official CFL yearbook. We pick up his trail again in 1985, when he played in nine games for the Tiger-Cats. He had 23 receptions for 333 yards, as Hamilton beat Montreal 50-26 in the East Final before losing the Grey Cup 37-24 to the B.C. Lions.

After that, he was done with pro football, just missing out on Hamilton winning the Grey Cup in 1986.

Along the way, on November 11, 1985, he had a son in Hamilton he named Austin.

Eclipsing dad
Scott Collie would return to the United States, and his son Austin Collie would grow up in California and play his college ball at BYU, just like his dad did. However, instead of being a part-time player like his father, Austin Collie became one of the best receivers in school history – and he left for the pros after his junior season. His freshman year was 2004, but he then left for two years to serve a church mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He returned for the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

He left BYU holding several records, including: second in career receptions with 215; first in career receiving yards with 3,255; and first in career receiving touchdowns.

He first caught my eye when he started for my beloved Indianapolis Colts in 2009. The Colts had to re-tool their receiving corps, so Collie joined fellow rookie Pierre Garçon on the receiving end of Peyton Manning passes. By year’s end, Collie was among the statistical leaders for rookies, with 60 receptions for 676 yards and seven touchdowns.

The future looked bright for Austin Collie.

Things got better in his second season, 2010, when he became a favourite target for Manning after the Colts suffered some injuries. Then the injuries started. A shot to the head resulted in a concussion. Later in the season, he suffered a second concussion, ending his season. He wound up 2010 with 58 receptions for 649 yards and eight touchdowns.

He was back in 2011, playing in all 16 games and catching 56 passes for 514 yards and just one touchdown.

The 2012 season would be his last with the Colts. He suffered his third concussion in the pre-season, then hurt his knee in the third game of the season to end it. He had just one catch for six yards.

The Colts would not re-sign him. He signed with San Francisco, was released, and signed with the arch-rival New England Patriots for 2013. He played in seven games, making six catches for 63 yards. He was released after the 2013 season, and never played in the NFL again.

The maple leaf forever
It was another one of those weird moments where I wasn’t sure I heard what I heard. It was early in the 2015 season, and I had a B.C. Lions game on while I was doing something else. Then I thought I heard announcer Rod Black say, “The pass was intended for Austin Collie.” That drew my attention.

It turned out to be the same receiver who had played for my beloved Colts. That got me thinking about his status. I had discovered earlier he was Scott Collie’s son, but that was the first time I wondered if he might have actually been born in Canada when his Dad was playing in Hamilton.

It turned out that was exactly the case. Austin Collie was considered a non-import, or national player. That would provide any CFL team with more flexibility in balancing imports and non-imports on the field. More than that, at six feet, one inch, he was a big target.

He came north in part to show he could still play football, and to beat the rap he was prone to concussions.

He would go on to play in 15 games for the Lions, catching 43 passes for 439 yards and seven touchdowns.

Before the 2016 season, Austin Collie retired from professional football.

Parting thoughts
It is always cool to see the next generation of players. Will they look like their dads? Will they play the same position, or for the same team? Will they dwell in their father’s shadow, outshine him, or just plot their own future?

In the case of Austin Collie, he followed his father’s footsteps by attending the same college. Given their faith is important to them, that played in a role as that as well. He also played the same position as his father, but quickly eclipsed Scott Collie.

Austin Collie became one of the greatest receivers in Brigham Young University history. It paved the way for a serviceable NFL career, that may have been great had he not run into injury problems, especially concussions. In fact, he became a poster child for concussions. Given the attention being given to head injuries, it is no surprise teams were leery about his ability to play.

Then he got his last chance in the same league his father had played more than 30 years earlier. Add to that, the fact Austin Collie was born while his dad played in Canada. That Canadian passport made him that much more valuable as a non-import in a league where teams have to have a certain number of Canadians.

He turned in another good season, and looked as if he was adjusting nicely, only to retire again.

Given all that, he still had a longer, more productive career than his father. It is just unfortunate injuries hampered him, leaving us all to wonder, what could have been? Still, Austin no doubt made his father proud, and that is all a dad can really ask for.

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