Collaros Impresses Casteel

MORGANTOWN – If West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel needed a marbles partner, he knows who he’d take.

He saw him plenty of him Saturday.

”He’s a guy that if you’re going to go pick up teams in the driveway, you’re picking that guy,” said Casteel, a Paden City native of Steubenville’s Zach Collaros, now the quarterback at the University of Cincinnati. ”And I don’t care what sport you’re playing. If you’re playing basketball, football, baseball, you’re going to want that guy on your team. He’s a very competitive guy. I think his competitive instincts are what make him a special player.”

Collaros suffered through a rare tough game Saturday at Mountaineer Field, as he threw a pair of interceptions and fumbled the ball away once a week after missing a game because of a knee injury. He completed 25 of 45 passes for 221 yards and was sacked five times, but he bounced up every time.

Casteel knows why.

It’s the Ohio Valley in him.

”I know how the people there are tough people and I know how he was coached in high school,” Casteel said. ”I think that has a lot to do with it.”

A lot of those people from Steubenville traveled to Morgantown on Saturday – Collaros didn’t even want to speculate how many to see Collaros and his high school teammate, WVU sophomore linebacker Branko Busick, square off.

The two had sent text messages back and forth all week, Collaros said, and they usually call each other a few times.

”We really didn’t talk much about the game, just see you on the field,” Collaros said.

Cincinnati coach Butch Jones flatly tossed aside the idea that Collaros put undue pressure on himself for all of these reasons and, thus, saw his performance suffer.

”No I think Zach puts pressure on himself every game,” Jones said. ”That’s him; he’s extremely competitive. He competes for greatness, he expects to do well. That’s just the type of person he is.”

For the most part, since the former three-sport standout has had opportunities at Cincinnati, he’s excelled.

For the season, Collaros is 164 of 270 for 2,139 yards and and 20 touchdowns. Last season, as a fill-in for injured starter Tony Pike, he completed 93 of 124 passes for 1,434 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He was 4-0 as a starter, which led to his being named as the preseason All-Big East quarterback on some lists.

And, thus, he has kept even the best defensive coordinators like Casteel awake at night.

”I absolutely love him,” Casteel said. ”I think he’s a great player. I think he’s got great pocket awareness. When you study him on film, he does a lot of things in a subtle way. When you watch him, he’s a really good football player.”

Still, Collaros said there’s a lot about Saturday he’d like to have back. One of his interceptions came in the end zone on the first play of the second quarter with West Virginia leading 14-0.

Collaros was looking for Armon Binns in the corner of the end zone, but instead found Keith Tandy, the Big East’s interceptions leader.

”Hindsight, I should have just thrown it out of the back of the end zone,” Collaros said. ”It’s something I’d like to have back, but you can’t have it back. I turned the ball over twice. That really hurt us in the first half. It snowballed from there.”

Indeed, it snowballed. But, in a college career few conceived would be this big of a success, Collaros has directed most of the avalanches.