College Football

Tulsa LB Zaven Collins sheds underdog label as draft nears

(AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio, File)

By CLIFF BRUNT

AP Sports Writer

Zaven Collins isn't the underdog anymore.

The former Tulsa linebacker has gone from having college coaches telling him he's not good enough for a Division I scholarship to having every NFL team and 53 team representatives show up at his pro day on Friday.

Collins, from small Hominy, Oklahoma, started last season unsure if he would even get drafted.

"Going into my redshirt junior year, I kind of took on the role of just taking it on, knowing if this year blows up, we might have a chance to at least be drafted within the seven rounds," he said.

Then, the big moments started coming. Against SMU, he intercepted a pass with 1:29 remaining to seal the victory. Against Tulane, he returned an interception 96 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime. He won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards and was runner-up for the Butkus Award last season. Now, he's expected to be selected in the first round.

"I wasn't really worried about it," he said. "It just started flying by and going crazy. It happened so fast that you didn't even know what was happening."

Now, the world knows about him. In his interview session on Thursday, he took questions from reporters from Argentina and Brazil. The reality of Collins' new life hit home when Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin reached out.

"That's when it becomes more surreal more than anything is when you're sitting with guys you've watched on TV coaching all these high level athletes and they're giving you the time of day to talk to you for about an hour and a half over a Zoom meeting to talk about how your life was and what you know about football," he said.

Collins measured at just over 6-foot-4 1/2 and 259 pounds. He bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times, had a 35-inch vertical jump and ran a 4.64 40-yard dash.

Collins considered his pro day "icing on the cake" and said his film was more important. He felt he performed well on Friday.

"There's going to be people out there that say I didn't really look good and there's going to be people out there that think I looked great," he said. "I think I did great, and that's all that matters. I left everything out on the field."

Though much has changed for Collins, he recalls being slighted coming out of high school and uses it as motivation.

"I played well enough. They just said my school was too small, my level of competition was not high enough to translate over to the D-I level," he said. "They didn't want to take a chance on a guy like me."

Collins was an inside linebacker in college, but he could be an outside linebacker in the NFL. He believes his versatility is among his best assets. Collins is being careful not to change too much, even if everything around him does.

"It's pretty fun to be able to do all this stuff," he said. "Things come at you from a million different directions. You're being pulled a million different ways. So you just have to sit back and focus on the things that got you here." ---

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.

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Updated April 2, 2021

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