Former UC Bearcat QB is King of the North

November 19, 2021

Former UC Bearcat QB is King of the North

The UC Bearcats are the talk of college football. In Canada, the big football story also involves the University of Cincinnati. As of this posting, former Bearcat quarterback Zach Collaros has led his team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, to the league’s best record at 11-2 and a division title. He leads the league in passing yards, touchdowns, and passer rating. It’s not an overnight success story, however.

Collaros, a native of Steubenville, Ohio, came to UC in the fall of 2008. “I received a scholarship offer from [then UC head coach] Brian Kelly, and the only other offer was from Kent State,” he said via phone from the Tiger-Cats practice facility in 2015. “I wanted to play football at the highest level, so I came to Cincinnati, and I loved the experience there. I met a lot of great people that I’m still close friends with. Great people. Great school.”

In 2010, his first full season as the starter, Collaros led the Big East Conference in passing yards (2,902) and touchdowns (26). In 2011, he led the Bearcats to the Liberty Bowl, where they defeated Vanderbilt. He was not selected in the 2012 NFL draft and signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After working out with the Bucs, he did not make the team and soon signed with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

“I’d heard about the CFL,” Collaros says, “but I’d never watched it. My agent was behind the whole process, and he informed me that I was on the negotiation list, so it was a possibility in the back of my mind. Things didn’t work out for me down in Tampa, and I was able to get an opportunity in Toronto.” His big chance wouldn’t come until the following season when Argos starter Ricky Ray was injured in a Week 4 game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Collaros started the following game against the BC Lions. He started six more games and played a total of 14. He threw for 2,316 yards and 14 touchdowns during the 2013 season. Unable to reach terms with Toronto in January of 2014, he was released by the team but signed with Hamilton the next day.

Collaros was the third-rated quarterback in the CFL in 2014, and he helped the Ti-Cats win the Eastern Division. With a 9-9 record, they made it to the Grey Cup, the league’s championship game, where they lost to the Calgary Stampeders.

In 2013, the Tiger-Cats were without a home field. Their old home, Ivor Wynn Stadium, had been torn down that spring as the new Tim Hortons Field was set to rise in its place. Construction delays kept the Ti-Cats in tiny Alumni Stadium at the University of Guelph through the first half of the 2014 season.

During the 2015 season, everything seemed to have finally fallen into place for the Tiger-Cats. They had a brand new stadium. Collaros, in his fourth CFL season, had a firm grasp of the Canadian game and its unique rules. “There are a lot of things that are different,” he said back then. “A lot of moving parts. All of the receivers can be in motion.” Another difference he had to deal with was the longer field (110 yards with 20-yard end zones) that was also wider (65 yards to 53 1/3) than an American gridiron. “And there’s an extra guy on the field,” he added. The latter may not seem like such a big difference, but according to Collaros, it added a whole new dimension to his job. “That extra guy allows the other team’s defensive coordinator to give you a bunch of different looks, so it’s difficult at first. When you get up here, you really have to understand coverages. The more you play, the more you get used to it.” That experience has certainly paid off for Collaros.

Indeed, many American quarterbacks have spent time up north and returned to have successful NFL careers. Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, and Doug Flutie are examples. Flutie was ranked as the CFL’s all-time best player by Canadian sports network TSN. Some spend their entire careers in Canada with great success, like Ron Lancaster, Damon Allen, Anthony Calvillo.

Some would say that the Canadian game is just better suited to a certain skill set. Collaros said that was not the case with him. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always just prepared and waited for opportunities and luckily have been able to take advantage of them,” he said, alluding to the work ethic he brought to UC. “Any situation I’m in, I’m going to prepare like I’m the starter, and if the opportunity came up, I feel like I could play anywhere. But I love the CFL game, and I really enjoy being here and am very fortunate to have the opportunity to play.”

It should be noted that this piece was originally slated to run in Cincinnati CityBeat back in 2015. However, the week before it was set to run, Collaros suffered a torn ACL, which ended his season. At the time of the injury, Collaros was leading the league in passing yards (3,376), touchdown passes (25), and passer rating (113.7). The injury kept him off the field until Week 8 of the 2016 season. The Tiger-Cats finished 7-11, good enough to make the playoffs. They lost in the first round 24-21 to Edmonton.

In 2017, it went from bad to worse as Hamilton started 0-8. Collaros was benched and didn’t start another game for the Ti-Cats. Before the start of the 2018 season, he was traded to Saskatchewan, where he faired a little better. However, it was still rough. He missed several games after suffering a concussion in Week 2. He came back, though, to lead the Roughriders to a 12-6 record but was unable to play in the first-round playoff game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to whom the Roughriders fell 23-18.

The 2019 season started disastrously, as Collaros suffered a concussion in a Week 1 game against Hamilton. He never played a down during his second stint in Toronto. In October, he was traded to Winnipeg, who had just lost their quarterback, Matt Nichols, to a season-ending injury. Splitting time with former Bomber back-up Chris Streveler, Collaros helped the Bombers win the 107th Grey Cup, downing Hamilton 33-12.

Now, Collaros is set to do it again as the Bombers have clinched the Western Division crown and a first-round bye. The playoffs begin November 28, with Winnipeg playing the winner of the division semi-finals on December 5.

Select Canadian Football League games can be seen on various ESPN channels with rest being shown via ESPN+

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