Oct. 20, 1983 – Aug. 1, 2011
I guess it was close to 20 years ago when a good friend of mine named Kenny White knocked on my door and asked if I would be interested in coaching a little league baseball team. They had too many kids turn out for the two teams they had, so they wanted to create a third team. It was a team made up of the younger less experienced players, we won a few and lost a few more, but had a really fun time doing it. One of the kids on that team was the son of the new veterinarian that had just set up an office in town, his name was Andy Collins. When we were taking batting practice Andy stepped in there and swung the bat so hard, I swear I could feel the wind out on the pitching mound. Of course his eyes were probably looking at the tops of the trees a few hundred yards away and he missed the ball by a mile, but man what a swing! We worked on watching the ball hit the bat quite a bit and tried to tone down the swing just a little, at least to where his feet would stay on the ground. The other thing I noticed about this kid was he could throw the ball on line from center field to home plate. We had to spend a little time working on hitting the cut-off man too. Every time Andy came up to the plate that season, he would swing the bat with all his might. I knew if the pitcher ever put it in his sweet spot, he was going to hit it a country mile. I’d like to end this story by telling you Andy did get a hold of a pitch and send it into orbit, but sadly that never happened that year. Oh he got a few hits, and you know little league he reached on a few errors, but never did hit a ball squarely with that “Casey at the Bat” type swing. But be assured Andy never got cheated and went all out with every swing he took.
That’s how I will always remember Andy Collins in the sports arena, all out all the time! He gave 100% with every play, whether it was on the basketball court; playing football at either the high school, collegiate or professional level; or little league baseball. I never played tennis or handball with Andy, and quite honestly I don’t think I would have wanted to, lest I would end up with a black eye. For those of us who knew Andy personally, we knew quite a different person off the field. Many times he was just quiet, but when he spoke it was always humbly, he didn’t talk himself up, he didn’t have to, and he was always willing to sit down and talk about anything, not just sports. Sometimes I think he enjoyed conversations off the sports topic more, he probably spent half his waking hours working out, practicing or competing in sports. A different topic was sometimes refreshing.
Andy would eventually give up baseball in favor of track and field. It was the right move for him. He won the State Championship in the triple jump in 2001, won it for discus in 2002 and at the time of his death still holds 3 school records for discus, high jump and triple jump. (his brothers Nick and Steven hold the long jump and shot put records respectively)
When Andy was in high school I was working for a couple different local radio stations broadcasting games all over the valley, seeing Zillah games was hit and miss at best. I remember going to cover the Sundome Shootout his Senior year and seeing him in a basketball jersey for the first time in a while. The kid was a horse, he had really bulked up. He still went all out all the time, many times out of control with the basketball charging towards the rim. But I don’t recall too many charging calls going against him. Who in their right mind would want to step in front of a fast moving freight train?
I recall doing a post game interview with Andy after a one-sided opening round football playoff game. I don’t remember the score or his stats in the game, except that it was a big blow out for Zillah. He probably accounted for 4 or 5 touchdowns and at least 300 yards of offense in the game. In the interview I kept trying to get him to talk about some of the plays he made in the game, but he was more interested in talking about the great job the offensive line had done and how the receivers had hauled in nearly every pass. That was Andy, he had just played a spectacular game, was clearly the best player on the field that day and he was giving others their well deserved credit due.
Andy was involved in the greatest hit I have ever seen in a high school football game, but he didn’t deliver the hit, he also didn’t take it. It was just a week after the aforementioned interview in a game played on the turf at Lampson Stadium in Kennewick. Andy dropped back to pass but his receivers were all covered, so he took off to the left. He found some daylight down the sideline, and had picked up a first down, but a defender had a line on him and was coming from his blind side to make a hit. When suddenly out of nowhere Ty Hastings his wide receiver came back from at least 25 yards downfield and hit the defender, both going full speed. You could hear and almost feel the impact of that hit inside the glassed in press box of Lampson. Through my headsets I could hear the collective “ooouch” of the reporters and other officials in the pressbox. I didn’t time it, but I’m pretty sure it was more than 10 minutes before that defender got back to his feet, and Collins was there to help him up.
After a stellar career on the grid iron as a Leopard, leading Zillah to two straight semi-final berths, Andy signed on the dotted line for Mike Belotti and the Oregon Ducks. At about the same time coincidentally I was offered an opportunity to do sports radio in the Eugene area. So I got to see and visit with Andy a lot. On one particular occasion, my brothers were in town visiting. So there was some drinking and poker playing going on, strong temptations for an 18 year old away from home for the first time. But Andy and I remained the only sober ones that evening and he was content to watch the card game and shoot the bull. Most of the times that Andy came over, it was to drag our mutual friend Jeff Griffin to mass.
That was another thing that always impressed me about Andy. He was raised in the Catholic Church and when he was away from home on his own for the first time, his devotion didn’t change. It never did, he remained a strong man of God wherever life took him. I don’t ever remember Andy uttering a curse word in all the conversations we had. Maybe as a fiery competitor in the heat of battle he uttered a few, but maybe not, because that was the kind of guy he was.
Eugene didn’t work out for either one of us and we both left in less than a year. When Andy landed at Occidental College in Los Angeles as their starting quarterback, it became harder to follow his football career. Luckily we had the internet to check in with his successes as a Tiger. He never lost a regular season game as a starter, winning 27 straight, was named offensive player of the year in the league 3 times, and was 2006 American Football Coaches Association quarterback of the year. He was also named an All-American by the AFCA. Impressive accolades, but not near as impressive as the words of his former coach. “In my opinion, Andy was the most dominant player in my 30 years of coaching football in our conference,” Occidental football coach Dale Widolff said of the 2007 graduate. ”He was the kind of guy,that when you walked into a weight room, a locker room, a meeting room, you immediately knew who the best player in there was. Much more importantly, he was a man who lived a life of great character and integrity in all that he did.”
In his second year as a professional, playing for Stockton in Spokane, Andy experienced the inevitable, a serious injury. I recall the way he explained it to me, “Doug, I knew laying on the field I was seriously hurt. I feel like I know my body pretty well and what I was feeling was not the usual bump or bruise you experience playing football.” Andy’s 2009 season was over due to a torn MCL, unfortunately while playing for Tri-Cities Fever in 2010 he suffered a season ending injury as well, this time his shoulder. Even in the face of this difficulty Andy’s integrity showed through. “I knew my job description had just changed. My job now was to get healthy. I didn’t allow the opportunities and call ups other players in the league were receiving to affect me, I concentrated on getting myself ready to play,” Andy said of the 2009 injury. And I am sure he handled the 2010 injury just as well.
The players that will be putting on the pads and helmets to take the field for the Leopards in the coming weeks, were probably putting that gear on for the first time as grid kids players when Andy was starring at Zillah. I’m sure most of them watched him play and a few of them probably emulated him on the field or playground. I can’t think of a better person for kids to emulate on and off the field than Andy Collins. He was looked up to by so many in this town, and he knew it, and handled it well!
If you are reading this article seeking some kind of comfort in the wake of this recent tragedy, I would refer you to Andy’s own words that he told me when we were doing an article a couple years ago. “Many things come your way in life that you can’t control, some of them good, some bad. You have to handle the bad with the same dignity you do the good, realize you can’t change them and get ready for the next thing to come your way,” When asked if that was the spiritual side of Andy showing, “Yeah I guess it really is!”
The comments for this article will remain open and I invite you to leave your own memories of Andy.