Zach Collaros Now Running Bearcats Offense

BY foxsports • October 28, 2009

By Joe Kay, AP Sports Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Zach Collaros was the high school quarterback who wouldn't lose.


With Collaros throwing and running, Steubenville High School in eastern
Ohio won 30 straight games and back-to-back small-school titles in his
last two seasons. The 30-0 mark as the starting quarterback won
Collaros a Division III player of the year award in 2006.

Very impressive. But when it came time to pick a college, he got a surprise.

Almost nobody wanted him.


"I only had two (scholarship) offers for football out of high school,
but 11 or 12 for baseball," said Collaros, who was also a shortstop.
"So that's what I was going to do -- until Cincinnati came along."


Knowing that he wanted to keep playing baseball, coach Brian Kelly
offered him a chance to do both -- run his spread offense during the
fall, dig into the batter's box in the spring. Collaros accepted and
came to Cincinnati.

Two years later, he's
running one of the nation's top offenses, leading an undefeated team
that's ranked fifth in the country.

Good choice both ways.


The sophomore made his first collegiate start last Saturday against
Louisville, filling in while Tony Pike recovers from another arm
injury. Collaros kept his perfect streak going by throwing for three
touchdowns in a 41-10 win.

He's expected
to start again on Saturday at Syracuse (3-4) while Pike recovers from
surgery to repair a protective plate in his non-passing arm. The stakes
are high again -- Cincinnati (7-0) must win to stay in the debate about
national title contenders.

Given what they've seen of Collaros, his teammates aren't fretting over Pike's absence.


"It's not a one-man show," receiver D.J. Woods said. "Zach Collaros is
a very talented quarterback. I'm happy with Zach. I respect him for
stepping up to the plate."

It appeared he
would be limited to stepping up to the plate in college because of his
size -- his listing as 6 feet tall is a tad generous -- and his style.


Collaros liked to improvise when plays broke down in high school, and
that became one of his strengths. College coaches generally prefer a
quarterback who runs the offense as scripted. When Collaros arrived in
Cincinnati, he roomed with Ben Mauk, another small-in-stature passer
who had a knack for making things up on the run.

They saw their similarities.


"We're both short," Collaros said. "Me and him kind of freelance here
and there a little bit when stuff breaks down. He had a real good
ability of keeping the play on. I like to think I have that ability,
too. He helped me out a lot."

Collaros
took a redshirt season, then got in some games after Pike broke his
left forearm last season, requiring a plate and six screws. Chazz
Anderson -- in the same recruiting class as Collaros -- got to start
the two games because he had a better grasp of the offense.

The Bearcats won the Big East title with Pike back as the starter. Collaros' final season statistics: 1 of 4 for two yards.

That gave him something to think about in his part-time role as baseball player.


He played center field last spring, started 11 of Cincinnati's 58 games
and batted .204. He also had a talk with Kelly about what he needed to
do to move his football career along.

"His
questions were more centered on, 'How do I move up? How do I break the
logjam? Is it going to be Chazz and me forever?'" Kelly said.


Kelly's response: Get better at running the offense, rely less on
ad-libs. Collaros was a quick study and moved ahead of Anderson for the
No. 2 job.

When Pike damaged the plate in
his forearm on Oct. 15 at South Florida, Collaros got his chance. He
came in and ran for a pair of touchdowns as the Bearcats pulled away in
the second half. Last week, he made his first collegiate start against
Louisville and was nearly perfect, going 15 of 17 for 253 yards.

Leading up to the game, Collaros talked to Mauk by phone a few times, getting reassurance from an old friend.


"The main thing he would tell me is to go out there and be who I am,
not try to be something I'm not," Collaros said. "That's really what he
helped me out with."

The largest crowd in Nippert Stadium's history got to see what Kelly sensed when he recruited Collaros out of high school.


"You know you're going to get a quarterback that takes it serious, that
loves to play the game," Kelly said. "And then, he's won. Those are
factors that moved me in our first year, when we were in transition and
recruiting late. Even though he was 6-foot, maybe 5-11 on a bad day,
that was going to overcome all those things that were seen at other BCS
schools as shortcomings."

His teammates
know about his high school exploits and have some fun with him
occasionally. After the Louisville game, receiver Mardy Gilyard praised
Collaros, then turned to him with a question.

"Zach, if I'm not mistaken, you didn't lose a game in high school, did you?" Gilyard said.

"Nope," Collaros responded.

One start into his college career, his record is perfect again.


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