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High School, Strong Work Ethic Had Collaros Ready to Shine

November 12, 2009

MORGANTOWN - It's a question that is so easy to ask in hindsight.

Why didn't West Virginia recruit Steubenville's Zach Collaros, the backup quarterback at Cincinnati who is setting the world on fire during his opportunity to fill in for the injured Tony Pike?

Granted, Bill Stewart was not West Virginia's head coach at the time of Collaros' recruitment - Rich Rodriguez was - but he surely had some influence.

And he, like Collaros, is from the Ohio Valley.

Stewart was asked that question the other day: Where was West Virginia - and every other school not named Kent State or Cincinnati - when Collaros' living room had so much more room for football coaches?

Stewart said he was most certainly aware of Collaros' exploits, having been a longtime friend of Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia and an admirer of the amazing run Big Red was on with Collaros at the helm. Steubenville was 30-0 in Collaros' last two seasons with a pair of Ohio state championships, the only state high school QB to ever be able to make that claim.

Stewart, a native of New Martinsville, which is 64 miles from Steubenville, said years ago - long before the Internet - when he was coaching at other stops down south or out west, his dad would always keep him abreast of the Valley Boys.

''They're great competitors,'' Stewart said. ''Tough kids.''

So he could at least peg Collaros as a hard-worker, and, as a three-sport standout, a phenomenal athlete.

''The problem was,'' Stewart said. ''We had Patrick White; we had Jarrett Brown. From what I understand, Zach was a better baseball player. The guy is a gamer. Heck now, I wish we would have gotten him over here.''

Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly was asked why he did recruit Collaros, when basically no one else was?

Kelly thought the question was kind of silly, as if he really had the kind of foresight to see what is happening now all the way back then - he'd lose his Heisman Trophy candidate to injury, and Collaros would come in and outplay him.

Kelly basically said he believed Collaros was the real deal and he doesn't recruit anybody he doesn't think can't play. He believed Collaros, a bit undersized at 6-feet, was a good fit for his offense but he'd need time to develop.

''I think we've got a pretty good eye for finding the right quarterbacks,'' he said.

Collaros was named the Big East's Offensive Player of the Week last week after completing 29 of 37 passes for 480 yards - fourth-best single game passing in league history - and a touchdown in a 47-45 victory against UConn. He added 75 yards on 13 carries, including two more touchdowns there, as he set a school and Big East record for total yards (555) in a single game. That was part of a school-record 711 yards of offense.

He's 3-0 as a starter, and helped bail the Bearcats out against South Florida with his legs when that game was very much in doubt.

''Watching Collaros, he's pretty good running,'' said West Virginia defensive end Julian Miller.

But how much of what Collaros is doing is a surprise to those who watched him during his high school days at Big Red?

Here's how that went:

That went to Brandon Saine, who was recruited by Ohio State and is now the Buckeyes' starting tailback.

''Ohio State never gave him the love,'' said WVU linebacker Branko Busick, a redshirt freshman and former teammate of Collaros' at Big Red. ''Maybe they should have.''

Collaros was also a standout in basketball and baseball at Big Red. He was so good, he was a starting shortstop as a freshman on Steubenville's Division II state runner-up baseball team in 2004. In that game, won by Walsh Jesuit, 12-0 at the old Columbus Clippers' stadium, Big Red had only two hits.

Collaros had one of them. Indiana University of Pennsylvannia slugger Lee Bainbridge (.335, 11 HR, 48 RBI last season) had the other.

Busick and Collaros, who won a state football title together in 2006 (Collaros as a senior, Busick as a sophomore) remain close friends. On Tuesday, Busick found himself getting pelted with questions about Collaros by the WVU media.

''Zach Collaros - what makes him tick? He's actually a great leader,'' Busick said. ''Any time Zach's on the field, he's effective in whatever it is, leadership or playmaking. Zach's the real deal."

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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