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January 10, 2018

Riders’ new QB hoping for career rebirth


REGINA — Zach Collaros‘ first meeting with the Saskatchewan football media went about how you’d expect.

The Riders’ new pivot talked about things like his new jersey number, the passionate Riders fan base and playing ping-pong with his reunited teammate Peter Dyakowski. There was even a question about Johnny Manziel, which Collaros was, of course, quick to deflect.

In the end, it was that patented competitive flare that the 29-year-old couldn’t hide, along with the reality that — nearly three years after being a legitimate MOP candidate — yes, there’s something to prove.

“I think physically I’m there,” Collaros said when asked to compare now to his pre-injury 2015 season. “Obviously, again, things didn’t go the way I had planned or we as a team in Hamilton had planned the last two years, but from a physical standpoint I feel the exact same and I’m really looking forward to going out there and proving myself again.”

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Collaros was traded to the Riders for a second round pick last week, becoming the latest big-name quarterback to switch teams in the Canadian Football League.

The Riders are hoping their newest addition can re-capture that 2015 form, when he threw for 3,376 yards, 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

He’s eager to take on the task.

“I think it’s a rebirth because I’m in a new place,” said Collaros. “Things didn’t end the way I’d hoped for [in Hamilton], but I can’t dwell on that. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity and focusing on the present and there’s not a better place to be.”

After rehabbing from his torn ACL, Collaros returned in 2016 and helped the Ticats make the playoffs, throwing for 2,938 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 games. A late-season injury kept him out of the playoffs, where Ottawa claimed victory over Hamilton in the Eastern Final to go to the Grey Cup.

The following season, by all counts, was the worst of Collaros’ professional career. In 2017, Collaros threw eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, while the Ticats started their season 0-8 before benching their starter ahead of the Labour Day Classic.

At 6-12, the Ticats missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

“I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t tough,” said Collaros. “I didn’t play as well as I would have liked, personally. As a team, we didn’t reach the goals we had set out in the pre-season. We missed the playoffs.

“From a personal standpoint it was tough, but I’m ready to focus on this new chapter, this new opportunity in my career and I’m really excited to be here in Saskatchewan.”

The Ticats benched Zach Collaros last season after starting their season 0-8 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

For Collaros, it’s an opportunity for a fresh start and a return to the upper echelon of CFL quarterbacks. No. 17 will get to throw to two familiar targets in former teammates Chad Owens and Bakari Grant, while Offensive Coordinator Stephen McAdoo and Head Coach Chris Jones both coached him in Toronto.

For the Riders, there’s a chance they’ve found their next franchise quarterback following the departure of Darian Durant a year ago.

Lofty expectations that Collaros, who developed his trade in football-mad Ohio, is taking in stride.

“Playing the quarterback position, you’re kind of always in a fish bowl,” said Collaros. “Whether you like it or not, you’re the face of the team a lot of the time. Fans are passionate here and that’s how it should be so I’m excited for the opportunity.

“This is Canada’s team,” he added. “This is quite the atmosphere to play in as an opponent. I’m looking forward to being on the same team now.”