PROVO Day after day during fall camp, BYU's Austin Collie has been on the practice field, dressed in his practice uniform, wearing a bone stimulator on his injured leg and doing a lot of watching.
While the junior wide receiver has been helping his teammates offering encouragement, advice and some levity the days have taken an emotional toll.
"It's been frustrating," Collie said. "I'm a competitor. I always want to compete, and I always want to be out there with my team. It's hard just to watch and not be part of the team verbally. I also want to be part of the team physically. It's been hard. It's definitely been a trial."
Over the past couple of weeks, Collie has gone home most nights feeling frustrated, wondering when he'd return to action.
"I was telling the coaches the other day that if this was the off-season or even a couple months before the season it wouldn't have been that bad," he said. "It wouldn't have been as hard. But since it's just a couple of weeks before the season, it's even that much worse. It's a struggle. It's a battle for me."
This week, though, Collie, who suffered a stress fracture in his right lower leg in the weeks leading up to fall camp, is hopeful that he'll be able to start running routes and catching passes. After a little more than two weeks, he reports his leg is pain-free.
"It feels great," Collie said. "There's no pain. Right now, it's just a state of precaution. We're just making sure nothing happens to it and making sure that it's not something that's going to nag at me later on in the season. The trainers and doctors have done an exceptional job of keeping me patient and keeping me grounded and making sure I do the right things to recover."
While Collie said he'll be ready for the season-opener against Northern Iowa on Aug. 30, will he be able to be effective despite this relatively long layoff?
Both quarterback Max Hall and coach Bronco Mendenhall say he will.
"Austin and I work so much together, that when he comes back, I don't think we're going to have to take time to get back to where we were," Hall said. "We just want him healthy because he's a big-time player and we need him to have the kind of season we want. We'll be excited to get Austin back."
"He'll be ready to play," Mendenhall said. "He's a competitor, and he knows exactly what to do. I trust him. So I'm not worried."
Collie agrees. "I don't think it will be hard to get back into it. Max and I worked extremely, extremely hard during the off-season and during the summer. We've gotten to the point where we know what each other are thinking. We know what we do in different situations. I definitely think if I were to step back onto the field, we'd pick up right where we left off."
During Collie's absence from drills, BYU has been able to develop other wide receivers, like sophomore Luke Ashworth and freshman O'Neill Chambers. Collie has been impressed by his understudies.
"They're doing well. Luke's done a fantastic job knowing the position, knowing the routes," Collie said. "He just needs to fine- tune some things. I'd say the same thing about O'Neill. He's a great player, very athletic. He needs to fine-tune some things on the offense as far as knowing the plays, and we'll be set. They're both great athletes and great receivers."
Though Collie hasn't been participating in practices, that doesn't mean his presence hasn't been felt.
"He's always over there making jokes," Chambers said of Collie. "He's keeping the same mentality off the field and on the field. With or without him, he's still out there, helping us and working hard with us. He's always messing with the defense, getting in their heads. That's pretty much it and telling the offense, 'Let's go and get better.'"
Not only has Collie been keeping up with his conditioning outside of practice by spending time in the pool and on the treadmill, but he also has kept his skills sharp by staying after practice, catching tennis balls shot out of a machine.
Still, he'd prefer catching footballs.
Following Saturday's scrimmage, Collie was amazed by the efficiency and explosiveness of the Hall-led Cougar offense.
"It's unreal. One of the best in the nation. I stand behind that," he said. "What's so great about it is, we have guys who don't participate as much in these scrimmages, like Dennis (Pitta) and Harvey (Unga), and myself and a few other guys, and we still drive the ball. Even with our second team. We have so much depth and so much talent, that guys can come in here and replace the starting guys. It's a huge benefit to have guys like that. (Running back) J.J. DiLuigi does a fabulous job. (Tight end) Braden Brown is really looking good. (Tight end) Andrew George is one of our top receivers also. It's awesome to see these guys come in and perform."Collie can't wait to do the same.
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