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Elijah Collins is grinding his way back up the depth chart

October 5, 2022
Redshirt senior running back Elijah Collins, 24, celebrates a touchdown during Michigan State’s game against Akron on Sat., Sept. 10, 2022 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans earned a decisive victory with a final score of 52, zip.
Redshirt senior running back Elijah Collins, 24, celebrates a touchdown during Michigan State’s game against Akron on Sat., Sept. 10, 2022 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans earned a decisive victory with a final score of 52, zip. —
Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

To say the past few years have been turbulent for redshirt senior running back Elijah Collins would be an understatement. 

Since joining the program back in 2018, Collins has dealt with a head coach change, injuries and, of course, COVID-19. 

Despite all the adversity thrown his way, Collins decided to stick with Michigan State. 

“Transferring wasn’t really something I thought about,” Collins said. “I didn’t feel like I was excluded or I was ever out of the race. I always felt like I had a chance and a shot.”

Collins is a Detroit native recruited by Michigan State back in 2018. With offers from the likes of Boston College and Iowa, he decided to stay in-state and don the green and white. 

Redshirting his freshman year, Collins had his breakout season in 2019. He finished with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, acting as an important piece of Mark Dantonio’s final team as MSU’s head coach. 

Then, in February 2020, Dantonio retired. Just over a week later, the university hired Mel Tucker to take over the program. 

A month later, the world underwent its own drastic change. COVID-19 forced shutdowns across the United States and sports were suspended indefinitely. 

In 2020, as the college football season was altered by the pandemic, Collins saw his usage plummet. He finished with just 90 yards on 41 rushing attempts. The following spring, it was revealed that a bout with COVID during the summer had played a part in his disappointing campaign. 

The following year was also a quiet one for Collins, as an early injury seemed to derail the season (not to mention Kenneth Walker III gobbling up a majority of the carries). On 18 rushing attempts, he earned 102 yards. Collins finished with fewer carries and yards than Jordon Simmons

In the age of the transfer portal, sticking with a program after a couple of hard years has become a little uncommon. If a player slips too far down the depth chart, a move to a program that offers a more featured role makes a lot of sense (think former MSU quarterback Rocky Lombardi just a few seasons ago). 

However, packing up and moving was not the answer for Collins. 

“He’s got that dog mentality. He’s not going to just gonna run away, he’s going to compete because he believes in himself,” redshirt senior Jayden Reed said. 

Heading into the season, the depth chart for MSU’s running back room seemed somewhat clear: redshirt sophomore Jalen Berger and fifth-year senior Jarek Broussard would split a vast majority of the carries. 

Saturday afternoon, Collins finished with two more yards than Berger on four fewer carries. Broussard had only three rushing attempts. 

After jumping over all of the hurdles that have hampered his career thus far, Collins may finally be set to force his way back into a prominent position in the running back room. Through his work ethic and impressive performances in practice, Collins is earning an increased usage with the team. 

“The production that you see from him in the game, that’s what we see in practice,” Tucker said. “He has a really good attitude and he works really hard. He’s a great teammate. He does an excellent job on special teams, so he’s very unselfish.” (3:18 Tucker)

It remains to be seen how the running back room will shake out in the coming weeks, but for now, Collins seems intent on competing with Berger and Broussard for carries. 

In last weekend’s 27-13 loss to Maryland, Collins had five carries for 36 yards and a touchdown. He had only one rushing attempt in Michigan State’s two previous games.

Now, 36 yards and a touchdown isn’t exactly an eye-popping stat line. But for a Michigan State team that has lacked any sort of juice in the run game, Collins seemed to provide a bit of punch on the ground. 

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“I thought he ran really well,” offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic said. “Fought for extra yards, made some people miss, broke some tackles.”

As it stands, Michigan State needs all the help it can get on offense. That’s especially true for a ground game ranked 99th in the nation with 127.4 yards per game. 

If Collins runs like he did back in 2019, it won’t magically cure the offense of all its woes. But it could give the rushing attack, and the offense as a whole, a bit of a boost. 

“We all know that he’s a great ballplayer, all it takes is opportunity,” Reed said.


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