Determination pays off for walk on to MU football team

Thursday, April 3, 2008 | 8:46 p.m. CDT; updated 2:43 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 15, 2009

COLUMBIA — For a moment, Chad Collard thought about walking away. The whole idea sounded crazy anyway. He didn’t play a down of high school football, and here he was, about to yank open that Mizzou Athletic Training Complex door, shake hands with Nick Otterbacher, the Missouri football team’s director of recruiting, and suggest that he’s 205 pounds of ambition and ready to give this big-time college football thing a try.

Collard almost turned his back on a dream. No one would have blamed him. It made all the sense in the world.

But desire’s burn got the best of him.

“I’m going for it,” he remembers saying to himself. “There’s nothing that can hold me back now.”

There sure wasn’t that day in January 2007 when Collard, now a redshirt freshman, approached the Missouri coaching staff with nothing more than blind hope and a little faith. Now, Collard has his shot. Former No. 2 weakside linebacker Connell Davis left the team before spring practices resumed this week. Collard practiced as the top weakside linebacker reserve Tuesday before moving to the third spot behind senior Steve Redmond on Thursday.

Still, Collard’s brush with the spotlight marks a remarkable ascent.

He walked on in fall 2007 despite never playing high school football.

Harrisburg High School didn’t field a team but boasted a successful basketball squad. In 2005, Collard was part of a 2005 group that entered the Class 1-3 district tournament in Salisbury with a 27-0 record.

The unthinkable happened. Harrisburg suffered a stunning loss. Collard felt unfulfilled.

“I was heartbroken from that. I didn’t feel like my sports life was over,” he says. “I wanted to do something big in life.”

No football experence? No problem.

“What’s bigger than being here?” he said with a smile. “I thought the worst thing that happened would be that they kicked me off, but at least I would have tried.

“Here I am today.”

There were adjustments along the way. Footwork took time. It took awhile to realize that hitting new-found friends wasn’t anything personal, too. At first, he was starstruck sharing the same locker room with All-Americans and Heisman finalists.

Then he got over himself.

“After a few days, I said, ‘Heck, they’re the same age I am,” Collard says.

Now, he’s taking it all in, learning along the way. He realizes he has work to do, assignments to master and coaches to impress. There’s a lot to accomplish.

Still, he has come a long way. The moments make the pain, the struggle, the dreams worth every second.

“It encourages him to know that you can succeed even when the odds are against you,” his father Tim Collard said. “With perseverance and opportunity, it’s a good example of following your dreams and working to get there.”

He might be there, but the journey hasn’t stopped. Collard says lessons learned as a member of the Missouri football team will stay with him forever. From Harrisburg to the big-time, there’s reason to believe dreams do come true.

All because he didn’twalk away from his dream.

“My first goal was just getting here, and now I’m here,” he says. “Now it’s just about rising the depth chart and learning more about what I need to do.

“My goal is to perform to the best of my abilities and to continue to get better.”

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