3DownNation top 100 CFL players: No. 71 QB Zach Collaros, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Photo courtesy: Matt Smith CFL.ca

Let’s go back to October 2009.

We’re in prime time — a nationally televised top-25 match-up on ESPN. No. 8 University of Cincinnati is visiting No. 21 University of South Florida.

Starting Bearcats’ quarterback Tony Pike suffers a broken arm early in the third quarter. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Collaros enters the game. His first series appears as though it’s going to result in a three-and-out.

On third-and-eleven, head coach Brian Kelly calls a quarterback draw. Collaros bursts through a hole up the middle and breaks free for a 75-yard touchdown.

Collaros added another rushing touchdown to tame the Bulls and guide Cincinnati to victory.

Watching the play-making ability of Collaros while playing my final season at the University of Guelph, you could tell that the Steubenville, Ohio native had the ‘it’ factor. He started four more games and earned a role in the offence even after Pike returned to the lineup.

The Bearcats went 12-0 prior to losing 51-24 to the University of Florida in the 2010 Sugar Bowl.

Collaros started his NCAA career 4-0 and one-upped himself in the CFL by leading a historic four-game road win streak when his first chance to start came about in 2013. Ricky Ray went down with an injury and Collaros emerged as an instant star with the Argos.

Hamilton inked Collaros to be their franchise quarterback in February 2014. He led the Ticats to a Grey Cup appearance while displaying the ability to be a Most Outstanding Player-calibre quarterback.

After suffering a torn ACL in 2015, Collaros didn’t immediately return to form. June Jones decided to go with Jeremiah Masoli as the starting quarterback in 2017, which led the Ticats to trade Collaros to Saskatchewan. During the 2018 season, the Riders went 12-6 and made the playoffs with Collaros making 14 starts.

The following year, Collaros was knocked out by Simoni Lawrence on the first series of the season. He sustained the fifth documented concussion of his CFL career, put him on the six-game injured list. He never played another down with the Riders in 2019 following the emergence of Cody Fajardo.

Riders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day traded Collaros to Toronto who turned around and executed a last-minute — literally — trade with Winnipeg at the deadline on October 9. The Bombers wanted a veteran presence for a run at the CFL title after Matt Nichols went down with a shoulder injury.

Collaros did what he always does: gain the respect of his teammates quickly. The veteran signal-caller led Winnipeg to back-to-back wins against the Stampeders and then started his redemption tour, knocking off the Riders in the West Final and Ticats in the Grey Cup — Winnipeg’s first in 29 years.

It was a remarkable four-game win streak to go with Collaros’ starts in the NCAA and CFL.

Just like in Steubenville, Cincinnati, Toronto, Hamilton, Saskatchewan, Collaros proved he had the talent and intangibles to win in Winnipeg. That’s why Collaros belongs among the CFL’s elite.

3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players, a project that will run through December 31, 2020. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.

72. SAM Anthony Cioffi, Free Agent
73. DB Shaquille Richardson, Toronto Argonauts
74. REC Kamar Jorden, Calgary Stampeders
75. OL Darius Ciraco, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
76. REC Jalen Saunders, Free Agent
77. QB Dane Evans, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
78. REC Brad Sinopoli, Ottawa Redblacks
79. RET Janarion Grant, Free Agent
80. DE Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks
81. DE Cordarro Law, Calgary Stampeders
82. DB Brandon Alexander, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
83. OL Jermarcus Hardrick, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
84. DB Branden Dozier, Free Agent
85. SAM Otha Foster, Saskatchewan Roughriders
86. DB Antoine Pruneau, Ottawa Redblacks
87. RB John White, B.C. Lions
88. LB Avery Williams, Ottawa Redblacks
89. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Free Agent
90. DB Richard Leonard, Calgary Stampeders
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DE John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.