Lee County’s Stephen Collier poses for a photo shoot during this week’s ESPN RISE Elite 11 competition.
LEESBURG — Stephen Collier didn’t expect the text message — the final little memory that he was able to take away from a week that most football players only dream about.
The Lee County quarterback and Ohio State commit was on his way back to Georgia after participating in the ESPN RISE Elite 11 competition with the best high school QBs in the world, and he got a text from former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer.
The message said it all.
“He told me to prove him wrong,” Collier said. “He told me to make him look back and say that he made the wrong decision.”
Collier — who was one of 18 quarterbacks invited to the Elite 11 competition in Beaverton, Ore., but didn’t make Dilfer’s cut for the coveted final 11 — fired back a response.
“I told him that I was going to work harder than ever before,” Collier said. “I appreciate him giving me that chip on my shoulder. Now, more than ever before, I am hungry to be great.”
Collier, a rising senior at Lee County, spent six days in Niketown, a football paradise where he worked out with the best athletes in the country in front of a national TV audience, and he said it was an experience that will only make him a better quarterback.
“It made me hungry to get even better and prove myself even more,” he said.
Collier continued: “It was great to be there and compete with the best of the best. I didn’t do as well as I could have, but I definitely feel like I am at that level. All of these guys are going to improve and get faster and stronger, and now I have to do the same.”
Collier went through a rigorous schedule of workouts that tested his physical and mental toughness and said it was ultimately his performance in the 7-on-7 competition that likely kept him out of the final 11.
“I wasn’t very surprised when they announced the final 11, because I knew I didn’t do as great as I could have,” Collier said. “But it was an all-around great experience, and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity.”
Sean White, a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was named the MVP of the competition, which has produced countless NFL quarterbacks since it began in 1999.
“His accurate isn’t just accurate. It’s exact,” Dilfer told ESPN.com about White, who has yet to commit to a college. “It’s an NFL type of ball. I’m stealing this from Steve Young, but he has an artistic ball. He paints a picture with his ball.”
NFL and college coaches were handing out compliments to Collier, too.
During the six-day competition, which ended on Wednesday, Collier met Clemson QB Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M QB and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and former NFL wide receiver Desmond Howard.
Collier bonded with Boyd immediately.
“We really hit it off,” Collier said. “He was telling me how I could be a very good player as long as I keep working and keep grinding. He was saying that I will be where he is right now.”
Collier was given high marks in three areas during the competition — arm strength, coachability and mental toughness.
He needed all the mental toughness he could muster Saturday morning when the quarterbacks were jolted out of bed at 4 a.m. for a 4.4-mile, uphill run.
“I have never been so physically done,” Collier said about the run. “I had never before been to the point where I almost needed to physically stop and give up.”
But Collier never stopped running.
“You had to decide to dig down and decide how much you wanted it,” he said. “That was a huge moment for me to know that I can do what it takes to be the best. Once I hit that bottom level where I couldn’t do it anymore, I just kept pushing. That was huge for my work ethic and for my future.”
The entire competition was filled with practices and drills from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. every day.
“It hurt to walk,” Collier said. “That was one of the most physically demanding things I’ve ever had to do. With the lack of sleep and your schedule basically filled up until 11:30 at night, you were just so exhausted. But you were kind of running on adrenaline, so you didn’t know how tired you were until it was over. When I got home (Thursday) I just crashed. I slept from nine in the morning until six that evening.”