August 29, 2014 11:25:44 AM
Trae Collins didn't know how to react.
How would you respond if someone told you you had a broken back?
Collins knew something didn't feel right his senior year at New Hope High School, but he didn't know why. It wasn't until he arrived at Southern Mississippi for a chance to compete for playing time as a freshman that he realized he was more injured than he thought.
"I didn't know what to say," said the 5-foot-11, 183-pound former two-star recruit by Rivals.com, Scout.com, and 247sports.com. "I expected to come in and contribute immediately. Getting that news, I was heartbroken."
The stress fracture to the L4-L5, the two lowest vertebrae in the lumbar spine, forced him to redshirt last season. Collins had to wear a back brace for three months and needed to have surgery. Suffice it to say he wasn't able to do anything. For a player who led all of Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A teams with nine interceptions as a junior in 2011, that was "the hardest thing" Collins has ever done in his life.
On Saturday, Collins anticipates being back in his element. He said he expects to be a "third-down specialist" for Southern Mississippi when the Golden Eagles will take on Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium. The game will be a return home, of sorts, for Collins, who was a standout at New Hope High, which is about 45 minutes from Starkville.
Collins made a name for himself with the Trojans. The Clarion-Ledger named Collins one of its top 40 recruits for 2012. He also earned All-District, All-Area, All-Region, and All-Metro honors as a junior and as a senior, and had 1,000 yard receiving and 10 touchdowns in his final two seasons.
But Collins went from a football and baseball standout to a fan because of the injury. He admitted he had doubts he would play football again, especially after support staff personnel asked him if he wanted to risk another injury and said there was a possibility he might not be able to get back to the level he was in high school. But Collins said he is moving and feeling great and will play whatever role -- a blitzer or as a cover cornerback -- in the Golden Eagles' defense.
"I feel as good as I have ever been," Collins said. "I went back home and was playing with some of guys and they said, 'What did they do to you? We thought you had back surgery?' I was moving incredibly fast. It has been a blessing from God."
Collins said the way he feels now is a marked improvement from last season when he thought a muscle strain was hampering his movements. Little did he expect to receive the worst news he could have gotten. A year later, he feels the Golden Eagles have become a family and are primed to have a much better season coming off a one-win campaign in 2013.
Collins credits his mother, Shirley Hill, for helping him through his ordeal. He said he is eager to play his role in USM's resurgence. He should because he knows what it feels like to make a comeback.
"That time is here and I am ready to go out and win a game for my team," Collins said. "I am 1,000 percent. Now that I am actually fixed and 100 percent, I am moving as fast as ever was and I am cutting as fast as I ever was."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.