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Injury ended former Packers safety's career, not passion for game

Injury ended former Packers safety's career, not passion for game
Nick Collins, who spent seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, returned an interception for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011 in Arlington, Texas.

After Nick Collins injured his neck in an NFL game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 18, 2011, doctors told him he had a herniated disk.

Collins, a three-time Pro Bowl safety for the Green Bay Packers, was told it would be risky for him to play again.

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It took him nearly three years to listen.

"I was trying to get back into football, but no one really wanted to take the chance,'' said Collins, who played at Bethune-Cookman and resides in Winter Garden. "I had a couple of teams that were interested, but they didn't really push the issue and try to bring me in and really give me a shot.

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"I just came to realize that I would never get the chance to play football again.''

Collins never played again after his frightening injury, announcing his retirement on Twitter on Aug. 19, 2014. In the nearly three years that it took Collins, 33, to reach that conclusion, he struggled to get back on the field — often with frustrating results.

He saw himself as a football player, and a good one. Collins played seven seasons with Green Bay after he was selected in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He played seven seasons with the Packers, collecting 21 regular-season interceptions in 95 games.

He returned an interception for a touchdown in the Packers' 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in 2011 in Arlington, Texas.

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"As a player, you want to walk away from the game on your own terms and not get forced out,'' Collins said. "My situation was a little different, but at the end of the day, you can only be thankful that you had the opportunity to play one of the best professional sports that's out there. I had a chance to do it and did some great things.''

Collins, who was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2016, even took the Lambeau Leap once.

That was enough.

"I didn't want to go back up there,'' Collins said. "It's kind of crazy when you jump up there with the fans. You don't know what they are going to do to you.''

The thrill of playing in front of one of the NFL's most fervent fan bases is no longer there for Collins, but life is good. He has his health, along with his wife, Andrea, and five children.

He coached high-school players for the first time in 2016, tutoring the defensive backs at Ocala Trinity Catholic.

"It was quite the experience, getting to see what teenagers are all about and getting to see from their eyes,'' said Collins, who is seeking a high-school head coaching position. "They think they know a whole lot about the game, but they realize they really don't know once you sit down and talk to them.

"We had a great group of guys, and they were eager to learn the game and [improve] their knowledge of the game.''

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Collins is around football, just in a different way.

"I have nothing to complain about,'' Collins said.

Helping hands

Why did the Miami Dolphins trade for Jacksonville Jaguars TE Julius Thomas? In 2016, the Dolphins' tight ends — Dion Sims, MarQueis Gray, Jordan Cameron and Dominique Jones — combined for 55 catches for 551 yards and six touchdowns. While Thomas might not be a significant upgrade, dealing a seventh-round draft pick is worth it.

The other side

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris made the successful transition from coaching defense to offense with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. Morris served as the Falcons' wide receivers coach during their Super Bowl run.

Now former UCF assistant George Godsey is going the other way.

A longtime offensive assistant in college and the NFL, Godsey was hired by the Detroit Lions as a defensive assistant in charge of special projects, helping them scheme for upcoming opponents. Godsey, 38, was the Houston Texans' offensive coordinator the past two seasons.

Quick drives

Jay Cutler may be moody and reportedly on the trading block, but of the three quarterbacks drafted in the first round in 2006, the Chicago Bear (for now) is having the most NFL success. Cutler was selected 11th overall by the Denver Broncos, one pick after the Arizona Cardinals chose Matt Leinart and eight choices after the Tennessee Titans took Vince Young. …

The 2017 EverBank Draft Day Sweepstakes is underway through March 31 at everbank.com/draft2017. The winner will receive two passes to the NFL Draft, round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations and ground transportation. The three-day draft will begin April 27 in Philadelphia. …

Former NFL LB DeMeco Ryans is entering coaching. He will join the San Francisco 49ers as a defensive quality control assistant. … It's that time of year. The NFL Scouting Combine will begin Tuesday in Indianapolis. ... Happy birthday to Scot Brantley. The former UF and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker turns 59 Friday.

I just came to realize that I would never get the chance to play football again.


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sruiz@orlandosentinel.com

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