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Author Topic: "I feel I can just be myself here"  (Read 1158 times)
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Blue Bombers and Fans

« on: August 20, 2021, 04:42:30 AM »

"I feel I can just be myself here" - Ed Tait

Zach Collaros recognized the irony almost instantly and acknowledged it all with a grin and a chuckle.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback was in a conversation with this week about heading back to Toronto to face the Argonauts - the very same team he began his Canadian Football League career with back in 2012 and then reacquired him in the summer of 2019 from the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

And, if you recall, some three months later and without even playing a down for the Argos he was shipped west to Winnipeg and a squad he would help lead to the Grey Cup.

It's worth pointing out that he still has a home 30 minutes north of BMO Field, where the Bombers and Argos will meet on Saturday, and about 90 minutes from Hamilton, the city where he once thought he'd finish his Canadian Football League career.

Oh, and while chatting with this week he was sporting a gray, well-worn sweatshirt from an establishment from his hometown with - 'The Spot - Steubenville, Oh' - emblazoned on the front.

So, yeah, this idea of 'home' has been completely relative for Collaros over the last few years as a professional football player.

"It's interesting because I'm a homebody," began Collaros. "It's not easy for me to have even been away from my hometown since college. I guess I'm used to it now, because it?s been 14-15 years. But when I was in Hamilton I thought I would be there my entire career and that kinda went sideways. It is what it is.

"My wife and I were talking to my best friend from back home on a Zoom call a few days ago and he just bought some land in Columbus. He said 'You should buy the lot across from me.' My mom's from Columbus, but I said, 'Dude, I'd love to, but we've got a mortgage in Toronto and I have no idea what we're going to do in five years or 10 years.' That's just the way it is for me right now. That's just the way it is in this league.?

Now, let's be clear here - there is no 'woe is me' in Collaros' voice. In fact, if anything, it?s exactly the opposite. He's comfortable now in Winnipeg and with the Blue Bombers, especially after a stretch where he felt like a football nomad bouncing from one organization to another all the while trying to fit in and trying to find his voice in one new locker room after another.

"I feel I can just be myself here," he said. "That hasn?t always been the case sometimes over the past four-five years. Being around Osh (Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea), I can just feel like I can by myself. I won't go into the details about why I didn't always feel like that elsewhere, but... I had been around Osh for only two years in Toronto when he was an assistant there but know guys who have played for him for a long time, guys that I respect, and guys on other teams and I asked them, 'What's Osh like as a head coach?' They all said the same thing: 'He's the best. He tells the truth and treats you like a man.' I have a lot of respect for him and for the style of game they've played under him in the last four-five years.

"You get thrown in and you just want to fit in at first. Then when I got here instantly it was, 'OK, I?m just like everybody else here. We just want to play football.' I don't have to be a rah-rah guy here. I don't have to kiss *** to anybody. I don't have to pretend I'm this or that. I just have to do my job."

To call this Collaros-Bombers arrangement a match made in heaven is hardly an understatement, even after just six games. After all, the Bombers aren?t just 6-0 since Collaros moved behind centre, they also ended a 28-year Grey Cup drought in November of '19 - even with the quarterback still trying to learn his teammates names, let alone all the intricacies of the playbook.

Now, with a full training camp under his belt and through two games this season - both wins - Collaros is moving around the Bombers offence like he is re-energized. Some have even suggested he looks reborn, playing like he did back in 2015 when he was with the Tiger-Cats and a knee injury ended a season in which he was a leading candidate for Most Outstanding Player honours.

Asked if this is the most comfortable he's felt with a team in a while, Collaros was succinct.

"Probably ever. Well, this and 2015 in Hamilton," he said. "Back then we had about 20 guys returning and all of our coaches back. This is probably the only other instance where we had essentially the same coaches."
"I really enjoy coming to work. I'm not trying to dwell on other places, but I just feel like here I can just concentrate on doing my job. There are a lot of veteran guys. So, the first couple days I was here there back in '19 was instantly a good vibe. There's a mutual respect between all of us. We're just all here to win games."

There's another slice of other irony at play here - besides being with four teams in four years, being traded three times over that span, having a home in Toronto while playing in Winnipeg and wearing a sweatshirt from his hometown in Ohio.

Just a few days prior to being traded to Winnipeg minutes before the trade deadline Collaros was contemplating putting his name on a contract extension with the Argonauts.

"When I got traded from Sask to Toronto I really don't know what to think at the time," said Collaros. "Toronto was 0-7, but I had a conversation with (then Argos GM) Jim Popp and he said, 'We're going to get you healthy and see where things go down the road.' I honestly didn't think I was going to be there the next year. Then Popp called me and said, 'Pinball (Clemons) and I want you to be the guy next year' but they had some leverage on me as to what they could offer with me not playing all year. I didn't think there was anything else out there until the night before I got traded here. I had no idea what might happen in the following year, so I thought I might as well take a signing bonus and at least have a job and that buys me another half a year to figure out things and if I don?t want to play any more I have that bonus and I could move on to something else."

Popp was fired by the Argos as Collaros was contemplating the offer, one day before the trade deadline. And that's when change came again for the veteran quarterback.

My agent called me and said, 'Hey, Winnipeg wants to know if you'd be interested to go and play there.' I was like, 'Yeah... for sure,' Collaros recalled." In my heart of hearts I knew I was going to say 'Yes' to come out here.

"You know, throw in the pandemic and it's been a weird 18-19 months. Even the day I got traded from Sask to Toronto we were moving into our new house so that worked out... for a while."

The fit here in Winnipeg, again, has been seamless. It's a veteran-laden team led by a familiar face to Collaros in O'Shea. This team's formula to success - own-the-line-of-scrimmage, dominate on defence and special teams - also means he isn't pressured to have to pass for 300 yards week after week.

And for a guy from Steubenville - the town's motto is ?Where you always have a home' ? Winnipeg does just feel ritght after all this uprooting over the past few seasons.

"I haven't been able to spend enough time around town here because of COVID, but from everything I feel and hear it seems blue-collar and workmanlike," he said."?People are friendly, but also just kind of leave you alone, too. And from an organization standpoint, I couldn't ask for anything more.

"In that locker room, I knew Paddy (Neufeld) from a couple other guys, I knew Stanley (Bryant) from some other guys. I didn?t know Yosh (Jermarcus Hardrick), but he gave me a big bear hug when I first got here and I thought, 'I'm going to like this guy.' I?ve known Darvin (Adams) since Toronto. I had a lot of respect for guys like (Nic) Demski and Andrew (Harris). There's Biggie (Adam Bighill) on defence, I played with Willie (Jefferson) in Sask. Jake Thomas, Mike Miller, Jesse Briggs, those guys have been in the league forever.

"These guys come to work to do their job. They have fun doing it, but understand it is a job. It's hard to explain, i's just such a good group of guys. Guys know what I'm about, I know what they're about so it was just me to come in and do my role.

"Outside of here we can hang out, too. I've been some places where after practice you just go your separate way. But here it is a tight-knit family. A big part of that is because that's just the way Osh is and he really understands the value in that and does things to allow that to flourish.

"It just feels right here."

"You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one." - John Wooden
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« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2021, 05:14:26 AM »

Great he is enjoying himself in Winnipeg
I think we will enjoy having him provide winning quarterback play.
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Posts: 317

« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2021, 12:32:23 PM »

What a great article.  Love having Collaros here!
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« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2021, 01:38:59 PM »

Zach also goes into explaining the culture around the team. Mike O'Shea loves the CFL as a Canadian and who also played in the league for a long time. Having some pride in your team, your city, your league is a good thing to have and helps motivate your Canadian players especially. Longer term this kind of news gets around and attracts players more than you think. Bottom line is mostly dollars, but knowing you will probably get a playoff cheque or two and be on a "winner" is an extra incentive for some players along with a positive work environment. This is the same for most of us at our jobs. I enjoy my work A LOT more being around good people and good managers. 
Collaros was the final cog in the wheel to push the Bombers over the top after steady progression the past 5+ seasons. Nichols made the Bombers respectable again, but if we won the Cup in 2019 it would not be from his efforts as he can't carry a team on his shoulders. Game plans with Nichols just too conservative. Need to try some deep shots at times WITH ACCURACY which ZACH can do. Zach still has elusiveness which I did not expect. I guess riding the bench so often these past years has helped him to heal fully. Also knowing this is probably his last crack at being a starter gives him great motivation. TOTALLY RIPPED this season! Smiley Looks like Matty in his heyday! Just no knocks to the noggin or reckless runs Matt....we need you upright and mobile ALL SEASON AND PLAYOFFS. Give the rock to the RB for those extra one or two yards.  Buck Pierce a perfect OC for him as Bucky was always more aggressive as a QB too even though his body took a beating. They don't need to wait to half time to make adjustments, they are doing it by the next drive or two. 
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« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2021, 04:24:59 AM »

They don't need to wait to half time to make adjustments, they are doing it by the next drive or two

Yes, I noticed that too.  They seem very quick to adjust on the "new Buck O".  Much faster than Lapo would.  It's a great sign.  And he sticks with the run, very important.  Even when JA20 gets stuffed up the gut, you keep sending him every 4-6 plays.

We did a great job recovering from short/failed drives after 1-2 of them.

Never go full Rider!
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