It was fun this week listening to Reggie Collier tell the McComb Rotary Club about his University of Southern Mississippi football days.
His easygoing visit from Hattiesburg, where he is a business development officer for First Bank, started during his introduction, when one table of members welcomed him with a “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” chant.
Collier earned it. He was USM’s starting quarterback for three seasons, 1980-82, leading the Golden Eagles to a 25-9-1 record during that span, including an Independence Bowl victory over McNeese St.
He didn’t talk much about his personal achievements, but they’re all over the internet. In his first year as a starter, the Golden Eagles ran to a 6-0 record and their first-ever Associated Press poll ranking.
Wikipedia described his junior year, 1981, as “one for the ages.” He became the first NCAA quarterback to pass for 1,000 yards and rush for another 1,000. USM went 9-2-1, with the tie coming against Alabama, and at one point was No. 9 in the AP poll.
His senior year, under a new coach and a new offense, included a 38-29 victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
After college, Collier played for three years in the USFL, but hip and knee injuries in his first year limited his efforts. He moved to the NFL in 1986, playing with the Dallas Cowboys for a season, and then was a Pittsburgh Steelers replacement player during the 1987 strike.
But there was always Hattiesburg, where Collier basically set the table for Brett Favre’s stellar career from 1988-90.
Collier only played one year of football at d’Iber-ville High School, so only three colleges recruited him. He said he chose USM because it offered a chance to play early.
“We made some special things happen at USM,” he remarked. “I’m sure my friends and Ole Miss and State can attest to that.”
He was joking, but if it was a boast he could back it up. USM beat Mississippi State all four seasons when Collier was in Hattiesburg, and beat Ole Miss twice in three games.
Collier said college football is “a completely different game” from the one he played nearly 40 years ago. For starters, there was a lot less passing back then.
Today’s game, he observed, is “wide open, it’s entertaining. These athletes are phenomenal. It’s for the better; it’s what people want to see.”
Discussing his own experience as a running quarterback, he got a laugh when he said he always thought defensive players had to be a touch crazy.
As Collier sees it, anybody’s natural response to a big guy running toward them is to get out of the way. But defenders are the exact opposite — determined to bring down the runner.
Collier said he never had an exceptional time in the 40-yard dash. But adrenaline always kicked in: “You’d be surprised how fast you can run when you got 10 people trying to break you up.”
He is among those who think college athletes should be paid for their work.
“It’s already happening,” he said, referring to under-the-table payments to players. “We just need to make it legal.”
He noted that college football has become a billion-dollar product, but none of that money is going to the players.
“I’m not saying how it should be done,” he added. “But they can do it if they want to.
“Everybody’s making money off of what’s happening on the field. How much to pay, I don’t know.”
He did acknowledge that universities and the NCAA try to help athletes who are struggling with their classes. But he doesn’t think a developmental league for college-age players would succeed because there’s too much money involved with the NCAA.
Collier, it turns out, did not finish USM with a degree in the 1980s. After the NFL and a few years in Arena football, he was working at a New York City recreation job when he decided to return home.
He said he kept getting job offers that required a college degree. So in 2003 — 21 years after his last ballgame in Hattiesburg — he received a diploma in sports administration from USM.
“I was a part of something special at Southern Miss,” he said. “It’s been 40 years and we’re still talking about it.”