Dylon Collins has excellent potential as a running back, but few colleges know about him. Merrillville High School football coach Zac Wells explains why he was held out the first 8 games last season after transferring from Gary Bowman Academy.
"He transferred into us last year in the summer. Under Indiana transfer rules, he was ruled initially ineligible. The family went through the courts, and ultimately the courts said that the Indiana High School Association was wrong.
"He had to sit out eight weeks while this whole process went on. He really shouldn't have had to sit out eight weeks."
Wells said there was one silver lining in the episode.
"The best part of that was that you got to see the true character of the kid. He really is a nice-character kid. That's a tough situation for a kid, to practice every day all through the preseason and the season. He became eligible the last game of the regular season. That's when the courts ruled on it."
Collins feels the benefits of the transfer outweigh the short term frustrations.
"The move really helped me a lot. Most of it was mental though. I had to really stay strong and focused, and I had to learn how to lead without even being able to play on Friday nights. I learned what really being a teammate is all about. With me being only able to play the last four games of the season, the move really helped me learn a lot about myself.
"On the physical side of things, it was like going from owning a clunker to owning a sports car. It gave me a chance to be in a place with an adequate weight room where I could lift, get stronger and be more prepared to play at the D-1 level. Everything that Bowman lacked or didn't have, Merrillville did. So I was really ecstatic about the move.
"And last but not least though, it's instilling lots and lots of discipline and work ethic in me. That comes from the great support system that Merrillville has. They really embraced me with open arms."
Wells likes how well Collins performed when finally eligible and feels he has a bright future.
"He ended up playing in four games for us last year. He probably should have started for us, but I had a senior that was already a running back for us. He carried us for eight games, so it's really tough to insert a kid and keep team chemistry. We didn't want to blow off the other kid because he's a really good running back as well.
"So Dylon split time with him the last four games of the season. He averaged 10 yards a carry. He catches the ball really well. And he's just a high character kid. He has really good vision. He runs the 100 and 200 in track, so he has track speed. We anticipate he will have a really great season for us."
Collins describes his abilities.
"I would have to say I'm explosive. I'm not just a guy that can run fast or just run around people, I'm not easily brought down one-on-one. I can lay down the wood if needed." The 5'-10", 180 pounder is highly motivated to prepare himself for a breakout season. He describes what he wants to improve most.
"Footwork, footwork, footwork. And loosening up my hips. Once I take my footwork to the next level, I'll be that much harder to get to and bring down. Along with footwork, my trainer and I do ball security and ball drills."
Collins visited Illinois for a Junior Day. He was impressed.
"I actually liked the facilities and everything. I really liked where Coach (Beckman) is aiming to take that program there. I fell in love with their weight room, but the fact that he emphasized increasing graduation rates really stuck out the most."
Wells, who has a good relationship with Illini assistant coach Mike Ward, feels more colleges will pursue Collins once they discover him.
"We've been hearing from a lot of schools. We're still in that process, and going out for visits. He probably hears from a school or so a day. He doesn't have any offers yet. He's a relatively unknown because he transferred from a really small school. The more people see the film on him, the more I get calls about him."
Wells expects Merrillville to have a good 2012 season. No doubt Collins hopes he will be running behind a rebuilt offensive line.
"We definitely have some guys returning. We have a quarterback that's probably a 1-AA type kid, we have a receiver who is probably around that level, and Dylon, who we think is a 1-A type kid. We return the majority of our defense. We have to replace the o-line, but at least we have a pretty good jump on that. So we have a chance to be pretty good this year."