On Sept. 19, 2015 Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Zach Collaros tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee in a game against the Edmonton Eskimos.
Less than 11 months later, after surgery and a long recovery, he’s set to make his return this weekend against the B.C. Lions. In an interview with reporter Drew Edwards, Collaros talks candidly about his injury, the arduous rehab and all the attention he’s receiving upon his return.
Drew Edwards: Tell me about the moment you got hurt.
Zach Collaros: I couldn’t believe that it happened on a play like that. You never think about getting injured but if it was going to happen, I figured it would be my leg getting caught under someone, not on a play I’ve done a million times. It was painful and I knew something was wrong. The doc came out and I said ‘just give it to me straight.’ He said: ‘it’s bad.’ I just couldn’t believe it. It was a crappy feeling.
DE: You made the decision to stay in Hamilton and do your rehab here instead of going back to the United States. Why?
ZC: It was a comfort thing. I knew Vikram (team surgeon Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran.) I knew Doc Levy (team physician Dr. David Levy.) I knew Carly (then head athletic therapist Carly Vandergrient.) I don’t love change. I could have had it done in the States, but I wanted to be here for the end of the year, help in any way possible … I’d also met a girl up here that I liked so that helped, too. I did some research and decided I was very comfortable having it done here.
DE: So you became an expert on knee surgery.
ZC: Not an expert at all. There are still things I don’t know about the surgery. I didn’t realize until the other day that I was in surgery for five hours – it was supposed to be a two-hour thing – and I was in there for five. I still don’t know why. They asked me if I wanted to see pictures, I said ‘no.’ Let’s just get this over with. I still don’t care.
DE: What was the hardest day of rehabilitation?
ZC: Nothing was crazy hard, it was just the mental part of it: ‘Man, I’ve got to wake up and do the exact same thing tomorrow.’ When I work out in the off-season, I love to challenge myself. If I lift a certain weight today, I want to make it harder tomorrow. But I couldn’t do that. It didn’t feel like I was making any progress. But then I’d look back and be like ‘I couldn’t do that three weeks ago.’
DE: Did you ever sneak out and do more than you were supposed to?
ZC: Ahhhh, honestly I was pretty good about that because I didn’t want to make it worse. But some days it felt like I wasn’t doing enough and that drove me nuts. Rest days were the worst: 45 minutes of treatment, ice and then go find something to watch on Netflix. There are other guys in the league and you know they are putting the work in. Even when I’m not injured, that stuff bugs me.
DE: Did you have a support network?
ZC: I spent some time with Mike (Filer) and his girlfriend. My girlfriend, Nicole, and her family were really supportive. I talked to my parents every day. I spent a lot of time at the stadium where I was doing rehab. I’m a lingerer, man, I can spend all day at the facility. Play ping-pong. Watch film. Talk to coaches.
DE: Did you ever have a moment of doubt?
ZC: No. I did ask Carly once: ‘Am I going to be able to move around like I used to?’ She said ‘you’ll probably come back better because you’ll focus on things you’ve never focused on.’ After that, I didn’t think about it much.
DE: You’ve stayed around the team during your rehab and been involved on the sidelines during games. Has this experience made you think about coaching?
ZC: I’ve always thought about it, but I’ve learned so much more. I would go to the defensive meetings to see it from their perspective, how they’re taught to take things away. That was interesting. I tried to learn as much as I could and not just about football – I read a ton of books, too. I was alone a lot, right? Everything from business, to fiction to philosophy: why people are the way they are and see the world the way they do.
DE: There’s been a lot of focus on your return and TSN is doing a big feature on your recovery to be aired this weekend. Will you watch it?
ZC: I don’t want to. Man, I just can’t wait for this to be over with. Football is not about one person and I really don’t like the attention. They ask you to be dramatic about it, ask you how things feel. I don’t man, it felt bad. It sucked. But I wasn’t writing a journal about it. You just deal with it, that’s life. I know if I was watching it about someone else I’d be like ‘alright man, you got hurt. People get hurt every game.’ I have a hard time being dramatic about it. There are a lot of problems in the world, my knee isn’t up there on the list.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length.