Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
HOG FUTURES ALEX COLLINS:
Everybody loves Budda
Highly-touted Collins expected to find spot
South Plantation running back Alex Collins signs with the University of Arkansas on Thursday, February 7, 2013, in Plantation, Florida. Collins' birth father, Johnny, signed his national letter-of-intent during a ceremony at Kim Bokamper's Sports Bar and Grill. The five-star recruit's signing had been delayed because his mother, Andrea McDonald, had refused to sign his national letter-of-intent. (Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/MCT)
FAYETTEVILLE - The running back known as Budda hopes to spread his message of happiness and peace to the Arkansas football program in the coming years.
Alex Collins, aka Budda, the highest-rated Razorbacks football signee last year, has already endeared himself to the South Plantation High School campus and community in south Florida, and he’s off to a great start with Arkansas fans with his uplifting attitude on social media sites like Twitter.
“Well, it’s better to get support from people than to get people against you,” Collins said. “It’s how I interact with people, I guess. We like the same thing, the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Collins At a Glance
HEIGHT/WEIGHT 5-11, 207 pounds
HOMETOWN Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
HIGH SCHOOL South Plantation
NOTEWORTHY Five-sport star who competed in football, basketball, track, lacrosse and competitive cheerleading. … Rated the No. 1 running back in the country, the No. 5 prospect in Florida and the No. 17 prospect in the country by 247Sports.com. … Ranked the No. 3 running back in the country by Scout.com and the No. 13 running back by Rivals.com. … Rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior, missing three games because of injury. … Played in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, along with Arkansas quarterback signee Austin Allen. … Named the Broward County male athlete of the year for the 2012-13 school term.
“With football, with life up here, the environment up here, it’s everything we agree on. The more we talk about it on social media, the better it is.”
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema, introducing Collins’ highlight tape to fans in Little Rock, described Collins as “a tremendous person the fans are going to love, and he can really play ball, too.”
As Collins motored past defenders on one clip, Bielema said, “And I can tell you, the guys he’s running away from, they’re not that slow.”
Collins, rated the No. 57 recruit in the country in the ESPN150 rankings and the top running back in the nation by 247Sports.com, attracted fans and followers in south Florida with his football prowess, his five-sport skills and his easygoing demeanor.
“There’s nobody that meets him that doesn’t think good of him and that he’ll turn out OK and do well in life,” said Doug Gatewood, Collins’ high school coach. “He’s just a personable, loving kid.”
Learning and developmentally disabled students at South Plantation were especially drawn to Collins, who played football, basketball and lacrosse, ran on the award-winning track and field team and engaged in competitive cheerleading.
“Everybody in the school loves him,” Gatewood said. “Out of a school of 2,800, many are handicapped. They just hung on Alex all the time, and he loved them back.”
Collins picked up the nickname Budda as a baby.
“I was a really, really big baby,” Collins said. “My dad, his nickname was Bubba. It was kind of like replacing the Bs with a D, plus I was a fat baby. That’s how I got the nickname Budda.
“Then after playing football for so long, kind of like for little league football, everyone just started calling me that and it got stuck.”
Collins, who said he loves the nickname, has incorporated it into his Twitter handle, @Budda03.
Though he was born a big baby, Collins was a 175-pound running back early in his high school career. He had outstanding vision, the ability to cut at nearly full speed and other instinctive running back traits, but there were plenty of 170-pound backs in Florida.
“He was the same size as every other running back in Broward County,” said Gatewood, who encouraged Collins to put on weight. “Since then he’s gained 33 pounds.
“People in this area were telling him he’s going to lose a step, he’ll get slower … and he finally quashed that when he went up to Florida State and ran 4.41 [seconds in the 40-yard dash].”
Collins admitted he was hesitant at first.
“I was concerned because I was thinking my legs would have to carry a heavier load because I was bigger,” he said. “I was 30 pounds heavier”
Collins said he continued to strengthen his arms and legs to handle the heavier frame and the result was a gain in speed on a college-sized back’s body during his senior year, when he rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Over a period of time, I got conditioned to be able to run for longer periods of time and it all helped benefit me to become bigger and faster and gain weight,” he said.
Collins’ choice of Arkansas over offers from Miami, Florida and Florida State caused a stir in the state, as did his national signing day drama when his mother chose not to sign his letter of intent.
Collins is uncomfortable discussing the incident but is appreciative that the Arkansas coaching staff didn’t give him heavy pressure to sign immediately. He cited that approach as one of the key reasons he joined the Razorbacks.
“They like to get to know you more personally,” he said. “They want to get to know you, and it is still the coach/ athlete style, but they also care more than just about you athletically and what you can do on the field.
“They always make sure you’re doing the right thing in school and make sure you’re OK in life. They call you just to check on you sometimes and see how your family’s doing and what you did today instead of are you going to come here right now. You need to make this decision right now. It’s kind of a laid back recruitment, but at the same time it’s about business as well. … I love that about them because they let me make my decision and take my time. I was able to relax while I made it.”
The signing process wasn’t completed until the following day, when his father signed the scholarship papers in a ceremony at which Collins dressed in a camouflage outfit, complete with a custom-made camo tie.
“That was just more of me showing my personality and showing I love the outdoors,” said Collins, who has also publicized his affinity for dipping all kinds of foods into ranch dressing. “I’m glad I got positive comments about it. It was just me showing my true colors. We were out doing target practice just before that.”
Collins further endeared himself to Arkansas fans by choosing to visit the campus during the Razorbacks’ spring drills on his spring break.
“That’s pretty much what sealed the deal,” Collins said. “I came up here and I was just making sure that this was really true. It’s kind of like a dream come true situation. It was well worth the drive, the 19-hour drive. I really enjoyed the time that I spent there.”
Collins joined an Arkansas signing class that showed the transition to Bielema’s preferred drive-blocking running style is underway. In that system, running backs are featured players. Collins will join a running back crew headlined by sophomores Jonathan Williams and Kody Walker that is expected to take plenty of carries in the coming years.
“I’m just trying to play as much as possible, get on the field whenever possible,” Collins said. “I’m working hard now so I can get that possibility later. I try to learn everything, take everything in, take every hint, tip, know everything right now just so I can be ready to step on the field whenever they need me.
“So I’ll basically play however many carries they want me to take. If they want me to take 100, I’ll take 100. If they want me to take five, then I’ll take five.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 07/24/2013