Early-life tragedies taught Lions' Jamie Collins to 'keep pushing'

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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Allen Park — If it's the difficult times in life that help us grow, it's no surprise Jamie Collins could run faster and jump higher and farther than most 250-pound human beings coming out of college. 

Collins, one of the Detroit Lions' biggest additions this offseason, was well-versed in tragedy before he graduated high school. His parents, Fred and Carolyn, both died of heart-related issues by the time Collins was 6 years old. Death also came prematurely for Collins' older brother Frederick, who collapsed while playing basketball in 2007. He was 23. 

Jamie Collins

"Shoot, I still think about it every now and then," Collins told The News. "I try not to think about it all the time. I feel like stuff like that happens, it's like fertilizer. Stuff like that happens for you to succeed and exceed in life, in different types of ways. God's calling is God's calling. It's sad. No one wants it. I know I definitely didn't want it.

"Things happen for a reason and it's what you do with it," Collins said. "I'm just trying to make the best of the situation. "

Collins' sister, Lisa Adams, kept the family together through those tough years. She raised Jamie, the youngest sibling, as well as her four other brothers, including Frederick. 

"I owe everything to my sister," Collins said in a 2012 interview. "She bent her back for me and my brothers. She raised all of us and I would not be the person I am today without her."

Having to overcome a life without parents has made Collins adept at adapting to challenges. So it's no surprised that ability has carried over to the football field.

In high school, he was a star quarterback, but he was converted to a full-time defender at Southern Miss. There, he played all three levels, moving closer to the line of scrimmage as his body filled out.

Even though he was undersized for the role, he spent most of his senior year on the line of scrimmage because that's what the team needed. He responded by recording 10.0 sacks and 20.0 tackles for loss. 

And at the scouting combine that spring, Collins rubber-stamped his film with one of the most impressive displays of athleticism for a linebacker in the past 10 years. He finished among the top-five at his position in five of the seven drills and his 139-inch broad jump remains the best mark ever recorded by a linebacker at the event. 

Collins was drafted in the second round by New England, where he blossomed into a Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl within three years. 

"I had Matty (Patricia) when I was coming into the league — smart guy, determined, gritty," Collins said, talking about his former coordinator and new head coach. "I had Jerod Mayo. I had Brandon Spikes. I had Dont'a Hightower. I had so pretty damn good guys around me. They helped me, helped mold me, including Bill Belichick, course. 

"I sat and I watched," Collins said. "I don't do a lot of talking. I just sit back, I watch and I evaluate, man. Sitting back watching all those guys, it helped me become a real pro, a true vet, and a guy that's willing to make the best of a situation. Anybody can be thrown in there, but not everybody can do (the job). When I go out there, I don't want to be the one to mess up. I don't want to be the one to get beat. I want to be the one to make the play."

Jamie Collins: "I don't want to be the one to get beat. I want to be the one to make the play."

For Collins, who is always striving to make the best of the situation, embracing the Patriots' "do your job" mantra came naturally. 

"It's their game plan and they use their players to their abilities," he said. "It's a do-your-job mentality and whatever they call, you have to swallow your ego, swallow your pride and get it done. I'm not the complaining type. Wherever I'm put, I'm just going to go out and do my best at it. I just so happen to be OK at it and make the best of the situation."

The thing about Collins is he's versatile enough to be effective in a number of roles. Having played at all three levels of the defense in college, he's just as comfortable rushing the passer as he is dropping into coverage. 

He's coming off his most well-rounded season as a playmaker. Returning to New England after a three-year stint in Cleveland, Collins appeared in all 16 games in 2019, racking up 81 tackles, 7.0 sacks, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. 

In the increasingly position-less world of NFL defenses, Collins is the type of matchup piece a coordinator covets. 

"I definitely love being put into situations where they trust me enough to (move around)," he said. "I don't like being put in a box. I like to rush to the passer and I like to cover and pick passes, as well. I like to fill the stat sheet up. Instead of having 200 tackles, I want to be an all-across-the-board player."

Collins has always shown a knack for generating turnovers throughout his career, combing for 26 interceptions and forced fumbles during his seven-year career. Oddly enough, he attributes the attacking mentality to his high school days playing quarterback. 

"I'm always looking at the ball," he said. "I used to touch the ball every play. I used to be the facilitator. It's always stuck with me to be in control. I like being in control. I feel like on the playing field, possessing the football is being in control. Whoever has the ball is in control and I want to be in control, therefore, I need the ball. By any means, I'm going to try to get it."

His desire to be in control on the field runs contrast to how often he hasn't been in control off of it, from losing his parents, to his older brother, to a Patriots' decision to trade him to the Browns in 2016. 

What has continued to ground Collins through it all is his ability to take life as it comes and the love of his family, which now centers around 5-year-old son Jamie Jr.

"I love my son to death," Collins said. "I appreciate him. I thank him for everything. I'm still growing. He's made me a better man."

And Collins was in control of coming to Detroit, where he reunites with Patricia, as well as a couple close friends from his time in New England, Trey Flowers and Danny Amendola. 

"They’re getting a determined player," Collins said. "Things I went through, man, I could have shut it down, but I kept pushing and did what I had to do to come up and succeed in life. I just feel like my upbringing really helped me through these hard times and through this time right now. Definitely getting a smart, head-on-straight, down-to-earth, fun, winner. Because we definitely are going to start winning right now."


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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