It was Shreveport, probably 1956, maybe ’57, but Pat Collins remembers the moment specifically.
Collins was a 10th-grader living in the blue-collar neighborhoods of West End.
His father, Jack Henry Collins, a railroad man, opened the ice box and pulled out a quart of milk before bed. He looked his 5-foot-9, 135-pound son straight in the eye and said, “I just want to tell you, if you want to go to college, you have to get a scholarship.”
Thus began the story arc of a seemingly ordinary kid, if an ordinary kid can be extraordinarily focused on what he wants from life and nimble enough of foot and wit to build it from scratch.
The Pat Collins who will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday in Natchitoches is the product of a teenage vision.
The teenager responded to his father’s warning with a plan simple in theory but mammoth in execution: he headed to the weight room. He knew he needed college to become a coach, and now he knew there was only one route to college.
So Collins dedicated himself to adding pounds and muscle. He set goals for his weight. Be 140 pounds by September, 150 by November.
His small size made the objective unlikely, but his work ethic made it a cinch. By 12th grade, he was 205 pounds and a football recruit.
E.J. Lewis, a Louisiana Tech assistant when Collins arrived as a freshman offensive lineman in 1959, quickly noticed something unusual for a kid in that era.
“He was one of the first people I recognized as a weightlifter,” Lewis said. “He was relatively small, but he was worth every ounce.”
Even as he worked toward a degree and enjoyed the life of a college football player, Collins continued to think about life down the road. He wanted to be a coach, so he didn’t miss the opportunity to study his own coaches. And he took notes.
“Did I ever,” Collins said. “I filled notebooks, and I still have them today.”
Collins’ legacy, of course, was sealed by the 1987 Division I-AA national championship at ULM, then known as Northeast Louisiana University.
That was the product of an experienced head coach with his own first-class staff of assistants.
Collins’ first experience with championships came as a member of the Tech coaching staff that won three Division II titles from 1971-73.
The years as an assistant to Hall of Famer Maxie Lambright, coaching alongside Lewis, Mickey Slaughter, Pat Patterson and Wallace Martin, shaped the philosophies he would use as a head coach.
As a young defensive coach, Collins coached like he played: aggressively.
“Man the torpedoes,” he would say, “because I’m bringing ’em.”
Later, he would admit, “I was winging it.”
But Lewis called him a brilliant defensive tactician who spent hours studying film and finding solutions to every offensive twist by the next opponent. By the time he reached ULM, he was seasoned, and in a few years he would have a team that opponents feared.
ULM had begun to have success when Collins landed the first of two big-armed quarterbacks who went on to successful NFL careers. Monroe native and Neville High standout Bubby Brister was transferring out of Tulane, looking for a coach who could match his intensity.
“I could tell we had something special,” said Brister, who played 99 NFL games in a 14-year career and. “I was high-strung and he was too. He coached hard and I played hard.”
Collins’ second star recruit, LSU transfer Stan Humphries, was a senior entering the 1987 season. A Southland Conference championship was the goal, and ULM won its first four games.
The team was ranked No. 1 in the nation before a game at Lamar.
“Stan threw six or seven interceptions,” Collins recalled. “And I benched him, and we played Walter Phythian, and we won the next game.”
But after a second loss, Collins knew he needed his star senior quarterback on the field.
ULM won its last four regular-season games before running off four playoff victories.
Collins was carried off the field on the shoulders of his team in Pocatello, Idaho, after a 43-42 national championship win over Marshall.
Winning started with a plan, and Collins had the plan.
“I loved every minute of it,” he said. “I love both these schools. I really did. It’s a family. Tech and ULM were different, but I loved them both. … Always will.”