“Coll” of Duty

Courtesy The Daily Tar Heel
Courtesy The Daily Tar Heel
Courtesy The Daily Tar Heel

Sometimes all one needs is to take advantage of an opportunity.

After junior Graig Cooper injured his ankle against Oklahoma on Oct. 3, sophomore Thearon Collier was called upon to take over punt returning duties. He made the most of it.

The week after the OU game  Collier returned a punt up the middle for a 60 yard touchdown against Florida A&M. It was UM’s first punt return for a touchdown in over a year.

“[Collier] has done a good job returning the football,” head coach Randy Shannon said. “Cooper was our return guy at first, then he got nicked up. Thearon had an opportunity and stepped up and did a great job. When you have a guy step up like that you stay with him.”

Two weeks ago against Virginia, Collier zig-zagged his way across the field and made a Devin Hester like return for a 61 yard score. The play was No. 2 on Sportcenter’s nightly Top 10.

Collier’s ability to capitalize on playing time is a microcosm of his early childhood. He grew up in Overtown, a poor neighborhood in Miami. He grew up without a father and had to help his mother raise his family.

“My childhood was tough,” Collier said. “It’s amazing to see how far I have come. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and now when I come back home all the kids say I saw you on TV, you did a great job.”

Thanks to hard work and dedication, Collier earned a football scholarship after his standout out play at local high school Booker T. Washington.

Collier, 5-foot-9 192 pounds, has been criticized by doubters for being undersized. But that doesn’t stop him.

“He plays a lot bigger than what he actually is,” wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill said. “Everyone jokes about his size but he plays like he is six foot or six-foot-one.”

The biggest difference in Collier between this year and last year is maturity.

“Last year I was transitioning from high school to college,” Collier said. “Last year I was just fast, but this year I have the technique down and I’m becoming a better all around player.”

His nickname throughout high school and up to this year was “pimp,” but Collier does not like the nickname anymore.

“What if a girl likes me?” Collier said with a smile. “I don’t want to make a bad impression on her with the name pimp. I’m Thearon Collier.”

The story of Collier’s life has been overcoming adversity. He seizes opportunities, and hopes to one day play on Sundays in the National Football League.

“My goal is to go to the NFL and create a foundation where I can help all the kids who grew up in similar situations as me,” Collier said.

If Collier continues to have success on the grid iron, there is no doubt he can put a smile on every child’s face in Overtown  in just a couple of years.

Justin Antweil may be contacted at jantweil@themiamihurricane.com.