Lots of questions and criticism surrounded the Spartans’ running game in 2020, and rightfully so for a running back room that did not find the endzone often. One of those biggest questions though was what happened with Elijah Collins. Why was a running back who was one of the best in the Big Ten in 2019 rarely ever getting touches during games?
No one seemed to have an answer to that question during the season, but Tuesday provided more clarity when Collins revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19 last summer.
“Last year was a really crazy year not only for me, but for a lot of people and a lot of people’s families,” Collins said. “It was a lot going on. When people come back positive there’s a lot of things that go into that, and with me last year that is what happened with me.”
Collins’ struggle with a positive COVID-19 case was no ordinary one perhaps compared to other college athletes who contracted the virus. He initially had to sit out two weeks after being deemed a close contact to a positive case, but then as those 14 days wound down he tested positive tacking on another two-week quarantine period. That meant about a month away from the team and a month of setbacks as the regular season neared.
“It took a toll on me back then,” Collins said. “I lost weight, muscle, like wind, all of that stuff. It really took a deep effect, but I did not have any symptoms to start off with, so that was what was scary to me because how many lingering effects will it have?”
This was at the time when there were doubts of whether or not the Big Ten would even have a season. However, even with the season starting around two months later than usual, Collins said he still was not ready Oct. 24 against Rutgers where he ran for just three yards on nine carries.
“Around that time when the season had started, I was not ready to go,” Collins said. “Me personally saying that I wasn’t ready to go, but in my head I was thinking I was, but looking back I wasn’t.”
He finished the season with 90 rushing yards, nearly 900 less than 2019, on just 41 carries while he continued to be mostly exiled on the sideline watching then-redshirt junior Connor Heyward and then-freshman Jordon Simmons take the majority of the snaps.
Now on his road to recovery from what perhaps can be considered a lost season for Collins, the redshirt junior has caught the attention of the coaching staff such as Running Backs Coach William Peagler, who joined MSU in 2020 along with Head Coach Mel Tucker.
“Elijah is a different person this spring,” Peagler said on Tuesday. “I’ve seen a totally different kid, a different back and he’s really done a really good job. He has always been very very coachable, just some things last season maybe weren’t as easy as they had been previously, but he is starting to get back to that.”
A lot of offseason attention has gone to the positional competition under center, but an even more crowded running back position group than last year, especially with the addition of redshirt sophomore Kenneth Walker III, a transfer from Wake Forest, makes the battle for touches in the Spartans’ committee scheme quite interesting. Walker has been turning heads too in the spring, just like Collins.
“I am a big fan of Kenneth,” linebacker Noah Harvey said. “In our winter conditioning, he was winning every single drill. He’s got a crazy motor. He’s a hard working kid, and I appreciate that. It stands out, and we are very grateful to have him.”
Culture and family, which Tucker said will be on display at the Spring Game on Saturday, were a key to helping Collins during his tough time away from the team.
“For me it was probably one of the most challenging things I have ever had to deal with, reason being a lot of things in my life tend to go right,” Collins said. “For something to go so drastically wrong, it was a lot to deal with, but I was able to get through it because I had my family and my friends around me that was able to help me through it, talk to them. Even if I wasn’t able to go see none of them, I was in contact with a lot of people over the phone, just staying in touch, to keep my mental in the right area.”
Michigan State fans will get their first look of the revamped Collins, along with others competing for running back touches, at Tucker’s first Spring Game at MSU at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network for those unable to attend.
Support student media!
Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.