Junior's spectacular senior season

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Jasper Collins found the end zone five times on Saturday. He's continuing the legacy of star Mount Union wide receivers which recently includes NFL standouts Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts.
Photo by Dan Poel for d3photography.com
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By Brian Lester

Jasper Collins Jr. has become one of the more dangerous wide receivers in NCAA Division III football.

He nearly broke the D-III playoff record for touchdown catches in a game in Mount Union’s 55-13 victory over Johns Hopkins on Saturday, tying the mark with five as the undefeated Purple Raiders continued their march toward a national championship.

Collins finished the day with 12 catches for 288, pushing his season total to 67 catches for 1,272 yards and 18 scores.

“I think his totals you are seeing in games are a reflection of playoff time, and he’s playing a little bit more,” Mount Union coach Larry Kehres said. “But (Junior) has been able to play like this forever.”

Collins has always had the talent to play football, and part of his development, interestingly enough, is a credit to the coach who will be on the visiting sideline Saturday when the Purple Raiders host Widener in the quarterfinal round.

Isaac Collins is in his third season with the Pride, which is unbeaten as well and in the postseason for the first time since 2007. Jasper is his nephew and spent two summers with his uncle when he was an assistant coach at The Citadel.

“I spent my eighth and ninth grade summers with him and the knowledge I gained from him is amazing,” Junior Collins said. “We would sit down and have a lot of talks about football. He really helped me develop as a player and he is a great football coach. I’m happy with what he’s been able to do (at Widener).”

The Collins family will be out in full force Saturday at Mount Union Stadium, and the talk of this matchup was actually brought up before the postseason began.

“My uncle sent me a text a few weeks ago and told me to go out and play well and his team would do the same and that we would see each other in three weeks,” Collins said. “It’s a neat thing for our family and I’m looking forward to the experience.”

Collins hails from Geneva High School in New York, the same town as fellow Division III playoff quarterfinalist Hobart, and has been making an impact ever since he arrived on campus in 2009.

By his sophomore season, he was an honorable mention All-Ohio Athletic Conference selection, making 66 catches for 908 yards. A year later, he earned first-team all-conference honors, highlighting his season with four 100-yard receiving games. Collins finished with 67 catches for 844 yards.

A solid offseason helped set the stage for the success he has enjoyed this year.

“I worked a lot on my route running over the summer. Three or four times a week, I would run routes in four seven-on-seven drills and it’s made a difference,” Collins said. “My routes are more crisp and our quarterback (Kevin Burke) is such a great playmaker. We are on the same page.”

The Purple Raiders can beat teams in a lot of ways. The running game is cranking out 261.8 yards per game and the passing attack has created headaches for opponents on more than one occasion.

Burke has completed 180 of his 260 passes for an eye-popping 2,902 yards. He has thrown 32 touchdown passes and has been picked off only five times.

Of course, Burke has a lot of options when throwing the ball.

Chris Denton has made 53 catches for 804 yards and five touchdowns while also returning five punts for scores. Julius Moore has caught 29 passes for 449 yards and five touchdowns and Shannon Stewart has grabbed 25 passes for 352 yards and four touchdowns.

“Defenses can’t key in on just one player,” Collins said. “We have a lot of playmakers and I know that my opportunities to make plays will come. The advantage for us is that we go up against the best defense in the country in practice every day. They make things tough and do a great job of preparing us for games.”

Kehres said the key to the success of the receivers is simple.

“Our receivers are experienced and dedicated to working hard on running good routes and working with their teammates,” Kehres said.

As for the big game by Collins on Saturday, he really wasn’t aware of just how much success he was having against Johns Hopkins.

“I didn’t realize it until the game almost over. Coaches were coming up to me and telling me I had a heck of a game,” Collins said. “I give a lot of credit to my teammates. They helped put me in a position to succeed.”

While the Widener defense will be focused on stopping Collins and his fellow wide receivers, the Pride has a deep threat of its own. Anthony Davis racked up 201 receiving yards in the playoff win over Salisbury last week and scored on a reverse.

On the season, he has 58 catches for 1,130 yards and 16 touchdowns, making him an integral part of an offense that is cranking out 483.73 yards per game. The Pride’s defense is allowing 297.18 yards per outing.

“They are a very good football team that has been very solid in every aspect of the game,” Kehres said. “Anytime you play a team that has won their conference and had the success they have had, we know we are getting a good football team.”

But like the other seniors, Collins doesn’t want the season to end on Saturday. They came to Mount Union to win a national championship and have no intentions of graduating without one after falling short in the last three national finals.

“Every player comes to Mount Union to win a title, and that was a big part of our motivation in the offseason,” Collins said. “As seniors, we know this playoff run is it for us. This is our last chance. We are going to go out there and give it our all.”