Collaros' ankle broken, spirit strong

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Zach Collaros 1.jpgCINCINNATI -- Zach Collaros hobbled on crutches out of the elevator and through the hallway outside the media luncheon on Tuesday. A day after his surgery went well, it was no surprise to see the ailing quarterback on the premises.

A fractured ankle may keep him out the rest of the regular season, but he isn't going anywhere.

"Ready to help the team however I can," Collaros said. "Help get Munchie (Legaux) ready to go this week and beat Rutgers. Just study film with him. I have a lot of game experience. "

Collaros offers the experience of pulling off the same task Legaux faces. Only two years ago, Collaros took over for Tony Pike and led UC to four key victories in their drive to a Big East title, perfect regular season and berth in the Sugar Bowl.

We have all week to look at the three-game trial of UC's most famous Bayou import, instead, today feels like an obligation to look back at one of the best quarterback careers in this school's history.

Collaros started 24 games and leaves as UC's all-time leader in completion percentage (62.7). For his career, he finished 473 of 754 for 6,198 yards and 50 TDs.

He's only the second QB to throw for more than 5,000 yards and 50 TDs (Gino Guidugli).

On the UC career list, he ranks second in career touchdown passes (50), fourth in career passing yards (6,198) and pass completions (473) and fifth in career passing attempts (743).

Unfortunately, he'll be best known for his run of four games in 2009 that kept UC's championship hopes alive. Those were about to become a career footnote to the final month of his career. That is, until the second quarter on Saturday.

ZachCollaros2.jpg"Just the first thought was this might be my last play ever," Collaros said of his immediate reaction on the Paul Brown Stadium turf. "Which is kind of a scary, weird feeling. Just a lot of emotions going through your mind."

There was no doubt in that moment his ankle suffered serious damage.

"I knew something was really wrong," he said. "I knew it was broken."

Collaros' crutches echo in the hallways, leaving a different sound to his standard path. The senior's voice and leadership didn't change one bit.

His ankle's broken. His spirit strong as ever.

Visits from teammates and countless calls and tweets from friends, family and college football peers went a long way to replacing the disappointment left from Saturday's injury.

All the guys came over to see me yesterday in my apartment, kind of surprised me," he said. "I had a lot of phone calls. I really appreciate that. It helps you get through times like this."

The door remains open for Collaros to play one more game. A game in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4 would be the only possible chance. The ankle typically heals in six weeks. That would put him right up against the timeline. Whether he could put pressure on it and be effective would another question altogether. Crazy things can happen, so it's not being ruled out, but Collaros clearly understood the reality of the situation.

Playing in the game would be a big deal to him, but slogging around for old time's sake doesn't fit the team attitude he spent his whole life preaching.

"Whatever is going to help the team," Collaros said. "If Munchie is playing well then Munchie is playing well. I want us to be successful in whatever we do. Right now, we have to take care of this next game and the game after that and the game after that. You can't look too far down the road. I guess I can, but I am just going to do whatever I can to help Munchie and the rest of the team to win the next three games."

Collaros was the strongest lynchpin between the past and present of the UC football program when Butch Jones arrived. He owned the respect of the locker room and leadership to install the belief Jones could lead UC back to where Brian Kelly left it.

After every agonizing loss last season, Collaros stood up and accepted blame. He talked about learning from mistakes and never distributed blame elsewhere. Amid a college football landscape so often devoid of integrity, he swims in it. 

Without him, UC wouldn't be near this point of accomplishment in the Jones era. Nobody can deny what he meant to the head coach.

"Meant everything," Jones said. "I have always said it, the head coach and the quarterback have to have a different relationship than anyone else in the program. It's the point we kind of hit it off right away in our philosophy and how we were going to play and our standard was exactly the same. I could look at him and he could look at me and we knew what each other was thinking."

Without words, they are thinking the same thoughts now: Get Munchie ready.

That process began Saturday. Collaros came out of the training room and onto the sidelines during the second half focused on calming him down despite receiving the most devastating move of his own college career.

"It speaks volumes," Jones said. "Zach is one of the greatest team players I have ever been around. He's totally unselfish. It's all about the team, it's all about this football program it's all about winning. He cares about his teammates. I think that was exhibited on the sidelines. He's going to help Munchie and the rest of our players as well."

Legaux felt the words paying off already.

"He helped me a lot," Legaux said, allowing patience and trust in the offensive line as the two areas Collaros assisted most. "
He's going to be in the film room with me all week. We are going to watch film together. He is going to show me some things, make sure I see the same things he was seeing as if he was out there."

Collaros, who never hid his desire to become a coach, earns his opportunity to do so earlier than expected.

No matter the situation, Collaros always stepped up in whatever role needed. That won't change for the next month. That should surprise nobody. 

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