There’s a lot to like about Zach Collaros.
The Toronto Argonauts No. 2 quarterback was tasked with filling in for arguably the biggest shoes in the CFL for six weeks in his sophomore season.
The 25-year-old Steubenville, Ohio native spends most of practice behind Ricky Ray’s reps, though he rarely is without a football in his hands.
“[Ricky] gets all the reps, but I try to take the same approach as I grew accustomed to when I was starting because we had some success,” he said.
Some success: Collaros led the Argos to a 4-2 record, including the four consecutive come-from-behind wins on the road, and capped his starting stint with the league’s Offensive Player of the Month award in September. He’s completed 66.3 percent of passes in 2013 for 2,251 yards -- a percentage that matches veteran starter Henry Burris and trumps Travis Lulay and Mike Reilly.
|Highlights: Zach Collaros|
» Collaros Dodges and Hits Barnes for TD
» Collaros, Inman Connect vs. Esks
» Collaros Finds Bradwell for Lead vs. Stamps
» Inman Open for 28-Yard TD from Collaros
» Collaros Hits Chiles in Stride for TD vs. SSK
» Inman and Collaros Connect Again
» Collaros Spots Chiles for 54-Yrd TD vs. MTL
» Collaros Bolts for Touchdown in Montreal
» Chiles Dives for Touchdown from Collaros
» Collaros Delivers Chiles his First TD
“Well, that was a team thing. If we weren’t winning games, that wouldn’t have mattered,” he said at practice, held at Oakville’s St. Ignatius of Loyola Secondary School Thursday.
Collaros is the last player off the field. As he shares his thoughts on stepping back into the backup role (practice is a little boring now) and what team he was excited to see play October baseball (the Pirates, he apologizes to his Twitter followers from Cincinnati), his ride is circling the parking lot.
“I think I’m an overachiever anyways,” he said. “Everybody tells you how great a job you did but I think the games that we lost, we could have won and I could have played better in the games we did win.”
Collaros’ modesty hardly matches his relentless drive, something that seems woven into his makeup as an athlete. The last time he was called on to fill in for the starter, he was backing up the University of Cincinnati’s Tony Pike.
Four years ago this week, the senior quarterback left the Bearcats’ game against the University of South Florida early in the second half with a forearm injury. The backup, Collaros, ran 75 yards for the first of two rushing touchdowns, just three plays after entering the game to keep Cincinnati undefeated on the season with a 34-17 win in Tampa.
That year, Collaros was bouncing between both football and baseball for the Bearcats in addition to his college schedule. He set a UC single-season record for his 75.0 percent completion rate, and 195.53 passing efficiency.
When he became the starting quarterback the following season, he set baseball aside.
“I wanted to be there for every single practice for my teammates,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the guy who only shows up a couple times a week. That ultimately made my decision pretty easy.”
On paper, the undrafted quarterback spent a week on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster early in 2012.
“It was just a weekend,” Collaros said, noting that when he was released by the Bucs, he was intent on playing. “Five days later, I was here [in Toronto].”
Collaros spent most of his rookie season taking in the talent around him. When a late-season opportunity came to play against Hamilton, it assured him that it was something he wanted to be a part of.
“Just getting up here and watching guys like Chad Owens, Ricky, Marcus Ball, those guys could easily play in the NFL as well. Everybody up here is a good player and you have to bring your A-game every day,” he said.
“It’s awesome to have them in the locker room and the meeting rooms every time you have a question or want to bounce an idea off them... [Quarterbacks coach] Jason Maas, Ricky...and coach [Scott] Milanovich is one of the best coaches in the league. I think that’s pretty obvious.”
Ray’s return from his shoulder injury saw the Argos fall to the Tiger-cats Monday. Coach Milanovich sees no reason to put the Argos into ‘funk’ status as the team switches starters. He credits Hamilton for picking up and playing its best football of the season.
Milanovich also knows the shift to being a late-season observer won’t necessarily be easy for his young back-up.
“I’m sure it’s frustrating for [Collaros] because he’s a great competitor and he wants to play,” the coach said. “He knows this is Ricky’s team and he’ll support him and do what he has to do. He has to be ready. He’s only one play away.”
Though Collaros is still young in his professional career, he can pull out every line in the A-game, do-better book of answers with the ease of a veteran.
When he’s talking Wednesday about growing as a quarterback and gaining confidence, he stops himself mid-cliche to laugh.
“I don’t know what I’m saying. I just want to get better,” he said.
When his number gets called, there’s a lot to like about Zach Collaros.