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A Tiring Draft Day for Collins : Fullerton Cornerback Picked by the Giants

Times Staff Writer

The telecast of Tuesday’s National Football League draft was already more than five hours old when Raiders’ linebacker Jerry Robinson shared with the television audience his recollections of the agonizing moments between the beginning of the 1979 draft and the time he was picked by the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I was a complete wreck,” he said. “You know, it’s the second round right now and I’m thinking that there’s somebody out there going through that same thing right now.”

Mark Collins, the most honored football player in Cal State Fullerton’s history, slumped further into the sofa of a suite at the Buena Park Holiday Inn and muttered, “He sure is.”

It had been a long morning for Collins, a 5-10, 200-pound cornerback who was projected by some experts to be a late first-round pick. Right before Chicago made the last choice of the first round--more than four hours after the first, first-round pick--ESPN analyst Paul Zimmerman listed Collins as one of three probable picks. The Bears, however, had other ideas.

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And so the vigil went on. Every time a team made a selection or the phone rang, a CBS minicam crew flipped on its lights and focused on Collins’ face. After about four hours, though, the TV crew was called away to ask John Robinson why the Rams’ first-round pick was a lineman from Canada.

It’s difficult to feel sorry for a guy who’s about to make a million dollars, but Collins hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours. And the decision to watch the draft with family, friends, teammates, Titan coaches and members of the media in the hotel suite had not eased his torture.

Some of his buddies, who had considerably less at stake, were sleeping on another couch and the phone kept ringing for all the wrong reasons.

No teen-ager waiting for a date to the prom ever hovered over a telephone more than a college senior on draft day.

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Ring. Ring.

Collins looked at the receiver and finally picked it up.

“Four-twenty-three!” He gave his room number and slammed down the receiver . . . for about the 10th time.

“I’m about to yank this phone outta the wall,” he said in frustration.

Collins invited a lot of people before he knew exactly which room he would be in. That meant most visitors had to use a house phone to ask for his room number because a hotel policy prohibited the front desk clerk from giving it out.

Relief finally came at 10:50 when the New York Giants, who earlier had traded former All-Pro cornerback Mark Haynes to Denver, made Collins the first of their four second-round choices and the 44th player chosen overall.

The people in the room whooped it up.

But Collins’ expression was blank at first, then he managed a tired smile.

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“I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “When the Giants traded Haynes, I started thinking maybe something was up. This has definitely been one of the most frustrating days of my life, but now I’m feeling better. My stomach feels a lot better.

“For a while there, I started thinking I’d never go.”

The Fullerton coaching staff had weathered the wait and Coach Gene Murphy and Co. crowded around to offer congratulations telling Collins he was lucky to be headed for New York.

After the crowd had thinned, Collins had a moment to reflect on the morning’s events.

“I figured I’d go in the second round, maybe sneak into the first,” he said.

“It’s funny, I was a sophomore in college before it ever occurred to me that playing in the NFL might be more than a pipe dream. I didn’t really believe this day would come until about four months ago.

“But I’m glad the Giants picked me. I don’t know what the situation (in the secondary) is there, but they’ll be without Haynes, anyway. I just hope I get a fair chance to play. This is a team that could go to the Super Bowl, you know . . . me and Lawrence Taylor and the guys.”

That’s draft day for you. One minute, you’re wondering if you’ll be picked. The next, you’re one of the guys and talking about the Super Bowl.

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Collins’ mother, Eunice, had mixed emotions, too.

“It’s exciting, a very proud moment for me,” she said. “I always wanted him to play baseball, though. I was always afraid he’d get hurt.”

Collins, the 1985 Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. Defensive Player of the Year and Fullerton’s all-time interception leader with 20, experienced some painful hours Tuesday morning, but his bank account shouldn’t be hurting after he agrees to terms with the Giants.

Titan Notes

Mark Collins missed becoming the highest-drafted Fullerton player ever by eight spots. Offensive lineman Daren Gilbert, the New Orleans Saints’ second-round selection last year, was the 38th player picked. . . . James Pruitt, one of four Fullerton wide receivers who split time last season, became the third highest picked Titan when Miami selected him in the fourth round. . . . Corn Redick, who started at the other wide receiver spot, was selected in the fifth round by Philadelphia. . . . Collins will be the fourth Titan defensive back to play in the NFL. The others are Johnny Gray (Green Bay), Bobby Kemp (Cincinnati) and Lucious Smith (Los Angeles, Buffalo and San Diego). Collins, who became a starter in the Titans’ sixth game his freshman year, is a three-time all-conference player who has the PCAA record for single-game interceptions with four in one game.


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