After transferring to Occidental College from the University of Nevada prior to the 2010 season, it took little time for Luke Collis to get comfortable in his new environment. He learned the playbook and adjusted to his new teammates.
The transition was seamless until the first game of the season when the helmet from an oncoming defender struck Collis, the Occidental quarterback, flush on his right leg. There were no signs of structural damage, but Collis missed the remainder of the game and sat out the next contest while on crutches.
"Tough way to start the season," said Collis, a St. Francis High graduate who wound up completing 167 of 268 passes for 1,870 yards last season. "I didn't realize how hurt I was and you just have to deal with it because you have a game to play.
"My knee wouldn't bend and I needed a few weeks to recover. I really couldn't run, but I was able to sit back in the pocket, read defenses and throw."
Collis, who earned All-Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference second-team recognition after completing 62.3% of his tosses last season, will look to avoid injury this season. He's healthy and ready to get the Tigers in position to challenge for an SCIAC championship. Occidental, a Division III program, will begin its season at 1 p.m. Sept. 10 with a nonconference road game against the University of Puget Sound before opening at home against Menlo College at 7 p.m. Sept. 17.
The Tigers went 5-4, 3-3 in conference last season, finishing fourth behind California Lutheran University, University of Redlands and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Collis would like to forget last season despite passing for more than 300 yards three times, including completing 24 of 32 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns against the University of La Verne.
Collis said he spent most off the summer lifting weights and throwing at least four times a week on the grounds of Patterson Field, the Tigers' home facility since 1916. The sting from last season is all but gone, but is still providing Collis, one of 12 seniors on the team, with added incentive.
"I wasn't satisfied with last season," said Collis, a former All-Area pick who tossed 13 touchdowns in eight games last season. "When you go 5-4, it's extremely difficult to be satisfied.
"We had a young team and we still do have a young team. Now, I feel fresh and ready to get after it. I think everybody is ready to go."
After graduating from St. Francis in 2007, Collis left for Nevada. He redshirted his freshman season and then played on special teams in 2008 and 2009. On the Nevada quarterback depth chart, Collis found himself behind Colin Kaepernick, who was selected in the second round (36th overall) of the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers in April, and current quarterback Tyler Lantrip.
Collis, a right-hander, needed a fresh start and Occidental appeared to be a good fit.
"I just wanted to be able to play out my last couple of years and I had experienced playing at a big school," Collis said. "Occidental has been the perfect switch and they have great academics here.
"I wanted to get after it and be ready to play. Occidental football is somewhat of an institution with all of the history here and I think they'll have a strong base in the future."
Veteran Occidental Coach Dale Widolff, who has guided the Tigers to 11 conference championships since taking over the program in 1982, said Collis was the perfect addition to handle one of the skill positions.
"It's difficult to transfer, but Luke just came in and was able to establish himself," Widolff said. "He sustained that leg injury and it's something that happens.
"I was pleased with the numbers he put up last year after he came back from the injury. In the offseason, he's become stronger. He's going to be one of 11 seniors starting this year. The goal every year is to win conference and he and the team will be shooting for that."
Senior tight end Nic Arnold said Collis complimented the team well with the ability to find his targets downfield.
Arnold will look to be one of them.
"He played well for us last season and he's the kind of guy who wants to improve anyway he can," Arnold said. "He can do a lot of great things and he's a huge presence on the field and in the locker room.
"It's a new year and everybody will be more comfortable. We are glad we have Luke coming back. We had good spring workouts and now everything is second nature."
Collis, a former All-Mission League first-team selection, said he's planning to showcase his leadership skills to the younger core of Occidental players so they'll inherit it for future seasons.
"They expect me to be a leader, and that's something that's got to come first," Collis said. "I expect something from them and they expect something from me.
"It's extremely important to be there for the younger players."