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TU linebacker Zaven Collins combining skill and effort in pursuit of dominance

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TU Practice

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins (right) works with defensive coordinator Joseph Gillespie at a recent practice. “I want to be a phenomenal player,” said Collins, who played quarterback and safety at tiny Hominy High School but has blossomed as a linebacker at TU. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World

Kneeling on the sideline at practice, University of Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins didn’t like what he was watching. The Hurricane defensive reserves were giving uninspired effort, surrendering easy plays in succession.

“Wake up!” Collins shouted. “WAKE UP!”

The defense responded with stops, having been challenged by perhaps the most talented player on the team — one known for bringing everything he has on every play.

“I just go out there every day and work as hard as I can,” Collins said. “In everything I do, I give maximum effort and nothing less. I do that every day in workouts, every day in meetings.”

Collins combines effort with skill and the results have been exceptional: 182 tackles over the previous two seasons, including 17.5 for lost yardage and 3.5 sacks, six pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, an interception and a forced fumble.

“Not only does he have his God-given gifts and abilities and his work ethic is second to none, he is not going to be outworked. And then at the same time he wants knowledge and he knows he needs knowledge,” TU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Joseph Gillespie said. “You start putting the knowledge and the experience with it, I think his level of play will go through the roof to a whole different degree.”

Collins was recruited out of Hominy High School, where he starred at quarterback and safety and won a Class A title as a senior. Gillespie has helped mold Collins into an NFL prospect, opting to keep him at linebacker because of his speed and 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame.

“Zaven is a tremendous talent,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “He’s a guy who can cover a lot of ground. He’s a guy that can play multiple positions. He can do a lot of different things for us and I think his future is extremely bright.”

Heading into his third season as a starter, Collins is TU’s top returning tackler and the centerpiece for a defense brimming with potential. Expectations are higher for Collins and for the team.

“He’s got to step his game up even more,” Montgomery said. “You’ve got to remember he’s been playing linebacker for only three years. He was a quarterback and a free safety in high school. He’s still learning the position. He’s still got a high ceiling, in my opinion, and obviously he’s got some God-given tools that he’s taken advantage of.”

A high school valedictorian, Collins has a pre-medicine major (exercise and sports science) and is scheduled to graduate in May. Depending on his junior season, he could leave early for the NFL.

“I still have two years left and I’m in no rush to leave TU, but if I have a good year this year that might become an opportunity,” he said.

To take the next step in his college career, Collins went back and watched a lot of film from last season. He’s hoping to cut down on missed tackles and become more of a dominant playmaker.

“I want to be a phenomenal player, where people say, ‘Someone’s got to do something to stop him,’ ” Collins said. “That’s the one thing I’m working on, being that X-factor this season.”

See images from last week’s TU football practice

Kelly Hines


Twitter: @KellyHinesTW


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Sports Writer

I have covered college football and college basketball for the Tulsa World since 2012. I spend my spare time as an animal rescue volunteer, focusing on spaying and neutering community cats in the Tulsa area. Phone: 918-581-8452

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