Rider fans don’t get too excited about Zach Collaros winning awards. In fact, most of Rider Nation would be just as happy to forget about any of Zach’s two Grey Cup wins with Winnipeg or either one of his CFL Most Outstanding Player awards.
For Saskatchewan, Zach is the one who got away.
After Riders’ president & CEO Craig Reynolds backed the money truck into Chris Jones’ driveway, Collaros was supposed to be the final piece to the new head coach and general manager’s championship puzzle.
That didn’t happen. Now, Saskatchewan is left wondering what might have been had Collaros stayed in Regina and not been shooed away in favour of Cody Fajardo — who is in the process of being shooed away from the wheat province himself.
During this Grey Cup week, Zach won’t get into why exactly this dynasty in the making never got off the ground in Regina.
“Yeah, we’re probably not going to get into that one,” Collaros politely responded to that exact question the day he accepted his 2022 M.O.P award.
But Zach did elaborate on a Roughriders connection completely unrelated to the Chris Jones era, one that has been a big part of what will likely be a Hall of Fame career.
Kent Austin was one of the most decorated Saskatchewan Roughriders of all time, winning a Grey Cup as the starting quarterback in 1989 and then another in 2007 as the head coach.
He’s also the man who wanted a little-known backup named Zach Collaros to be his signal-caller in 2014, the missing piece to another championship puzzle in Hamilton.
Collaros will tell anyone who will listen that it was connecting with the Roughrider legend that really made his career take off.
“I had only played six games and to be quite honest with you, I didn’t know a ton about the league even from being in it for two seasons,” Collaros said.
“I kind of made the decision to go to Hamilton. Not blindly but I just relied on Scott Milanovich, who was the head coach in Toronto, to kind of guide me in the right direction and he said, ‘Hey, go down to Hamilton. Kent Austin is an unbelievable football mind and they’ve got a guy named Tommy Condell there that you’re going to learn a lot from too.’ Making that decision was one of the best decisions that’s ever happened to me in this league and this sport.”
The way Collaros tells it, it wasn’t really Austin’s help with X’s and O’s that made his career, but rather the open-mindedness that his coach showed him in those early days with the Ticats.
“I can remember the first meeting with Kent and just his belief in me and my ability and always kind of having the underdog mentality,” the quarterback recalled.
“Being the smallest guy, everybody wanted to change my mechanics and tell me, ‘You can’t run outside of the pocket. You can’t do this. You’ve got to play a certain way.’ Kent, when I first met him, was like, ‘No, no, you don’t have to do any of that. You can play however you want to play. I’m just going to teach you this way to look at the football game.’”
“That belief in me and the way that he saw the game and the way that Tommy Condell took it to the next level and could teach it to me. It was really, I think, the start to my love for this game, this Canadian football game.”
Collaros’ story is another recent example of ex-Roughrider players and coaches doing great things for teams other than Saskatchewan. That’s a trend that is starting to grate on Rider nation.
The green and white fingerprints on this Winnipeg juggernaut offer little-to-no consolation and, in fact, only serve to rub more salt into the wounds of a fan base that just watched its team blow a 4-1 start to the season and deteriorate into a 6-12 eyesore.
It’s nothing personal against Collaros but most of us don’t enjoy seeing our ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend do well with someone else. Especially when we’re floundering around without our own true love.
The same is true for Rider fans and their quarterbacks.
Yet another factor that will undoubtedly ratchet up the pressure on the current regime in Riderville to make things right this coming offseason.