Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 26, 2013

MT. ULLA — While other players and teams are counting the days until the end of the season, Nick Collins is making them count.
The West Rowan linebacker spent the Falcons’ recent bye week taking reading lessons from Scott Young, Kevin Parks and the rest of the team’s coaching staff.
“We had to work on some things,” said Parks, West’s linebackers coach. “Our defense is built behind the linebackers. Their job is to seek and destroy — find the ball and go get it. This week he found the ball.”
Collins, a six-foot senior, isn’t one of those kamikaze-style defenders. But his inspired play helped West (3-1 overall) outslug Northwest Cabarrus 38-7 in its SPC opener last Friday.
“This was the best game he’s played in a Falcon uniform,” gushed Young. “He may have been more productive against Mooresville, but this was his best performance. He played downhill. He saw the guard pulls and reacted properly.”
Collins had 11 tackles in WR’s season-opening loss at Mooresville Aug. 23. Last week he was at his disruptive best, notching eight — including one for a loss — and making his second fumble recovery of the season.
“It felt like I played better in this game,” he said during an early-week practice. “I saw my guards a lot better. If you don’t, you end up giving up a lot of yards like we did against Salisbury (150 total on Sept. 13). To be honest with you, the reason we all played better is because we got punished last week. You kill bad habits with bad punishments.”
Perhaps, but if you look at only the bones of the story, you miss the heart of it. Collins wisely used West’s idle week to sharpen his game between the ears.
“I got better at reading the guards,” he said. “You watch them and they’ll tell you where the play is going. They’ll tell you every time.”
Young made sure the lesson was learned.
“We took the open week and committed to the fact that our linebackers weren’t reading guards fast enough,” he said. “The first step is always a read-step we take in the direction the play is flowing — and the guard-pull overrides any other read you might have. The backs will lie to you. They may break left when the play is going right. But the guards, they never lie.”
West’s Najee Tucker, the free safety who blocked two punts against NWC, thought Collins played an over-the-top, statement game.
“Not only that, he was being physical,” Tucker said. “He brought the heat, the pressure that freed me up. I like playing with him because he always gives 100 percent.”
And then some. Collins may have been a bit over-zealous in the third quarter when he was flagged for a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty. Young said a subsequent film session indicated the call could have gone either way.
“It doesn’t matter,” Collins said. “It was a bang-bang play and they called it. The quarterback rolled out and when that happens I’m supposed to go get him.”
It was all part of a night Collins — and the Falcons —will cherish. “That’s what being a leader is,” Parks said. “We had a bye week and Nick took the initiative. He decided, ‘This is what I need to improve.’”
He did, and made it count.