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Clamoring for Collier

Lee County’s Stephen Collier lit up opposing defenses for 1,887 yards passing and 486 more rushing last season, accounting for 34 TDs, plus six 2-point conversions. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Lee County’s Stephen Collier lit up opposing defenses for 1,887 yards passing and 486 more rushing last season, accounting for 34 TDs, plus six 2-point conversions. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

LEESBURG — Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and Vince Young ...

That’s the kind of company Lee County quarterback Stephen Collier joined this week.

Collier, a rising senior for the Trojans, was named one of the national finalists for the coveted ESPN RISE Elite 11 following a recent tryout in Atlanta, where he took on the “pressure cooker” — as Collier calls it — and passed with flying colors.

“It’s called the pressure cooker for a reason,” Collier said with a laugh Monday evening. “It’s a drill for quarterbacks where they basically line up everyone on the sidelines, and when they call your name, you have to run out there and you have 30 seconds to do this 100-yard drill — and it’s just you all alone out there on the field with everyone watching.”

Collier, apparently, was impressive.

A short time later, he got the call.

“It was (NFL quarterback and Elite 8 scout) Jordan Palmer, and I was just sitting at my friend’s house watching TV when I saw on my phone this number from California — and when I heard it was him, I knew I’d made it,” Collier recalled excitedly, barely able to contain his enthusiasm during that moment or when he retold the story Monday. “(He beat around the bush) a little at first and was asking me how things had been going and what I’d been up to. Then he said, ‘So what are your plans this summer? Because if you’re not too busy, I’d love to have you join me and the guys in Oregon and enter the Elite 11 fraternity.’ ”

Collier said he lost it.

“Man, I started running around, screaming, going crazy,” he added. “My friends put (my reaction) on YouTube. It’s pretty funny.”

Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio said he wasn’t surprised by the news.

“Stephen’s a real hard worker, and it’s a great honor,” the coach said Monday. “To be named one of the Top 11 of anything in the country is just amazing. We’re all very proud and excited for him.”

Out of all the regional tryouts — which you had to be invited to by the Elite 11 staff and each were comprised of roughly 80 players — Collier was one of two QBs from Georgia selected after. The other was Deshaun Watson of Gainesville High School — the No. 1-rated QB prospect, by many recruiting services, in the nation.

Now Collier belongs in that conversation. He threw for 1,887 yards and rushed for 485 more, accounting for 34 TDs (23 passing and 11 rushing), plus six two-point conversions last season for Lee County.

And in the age of the mobile quarterback — which Collier and Watson both are — what they can do on the run and outside of the pocket may have been what put them over the top.

“I’d say Deshaun definitely won the camp, if you had to say there was a winner, but I felt good when I left that I had done pretty well, too,” said Collier, who was placed in Group 1 after going through 10, 10-minute drills at the Atlanta tryout.

He would quickly find out what Group 1 meant.

“It didn’t take long to realize that Group 1 was the best of the best,” Collier recalled. “And when they huddled us up, they told us exactly that. We knew we had all the eyes on us, and they told us if we didn’t go out and perform, we’d be moved to a different group. And they were serious — a couple of guys were kicked out (and demoted) once we got going.”

It wasn’t long after Group 1 was assembled that the “pressure cooker” began, and Collier said that’s when he may have been at his best.

“Your heart’s racing with everyone watching, sure, but you learn to block that out real quick. You have to,” he said. “I was, like, the third or fourth name called, and I ran out and got after it. You have to complete five passes and they get progressively harder. The first is a slant, the second is a corner route, the third is quick post and the fourth is a fake to a running back and then you have to roll out and make a throw on the run.”

No. 5, however, was where most of the QBs got tripped up.

Collier did not.

“No. 5 was the most difficult one. That was the seam route,” he explained. “On that one, three big ol’ assistant coaches stood at the goal line with their hands up as high as they could go, and from about 20 yards out you have to drop this pass in between the front of the end zone and the back.’

“That drill killed a bunch of people.”

But it was that drill, Collier believes, that set him apart, and now he’s headed to the grand opening of Niketown in Beaverton, Ore., June 28-July 3 for a six-day experience dubbed “Football Heaven” by ESPN’s organizers, during which the nation’s No. 1 QB — in the eyes of the Elite 11 staff — will be named.

Collier said right now, he feels just glad to be included. But by the time he gets out West, the competitor inside of him will come out and do his best to separate himself from the pack.

“When they were announcing the names of the Elite 11 over Twitter, I was watching it on my phone and thinking, ‘Awwww ....’ because I thought at first I hadn’t made it,” he said. “But then I got the call. It’s pretty cool, man.”

Collier than paused and thought for a second before adding: “Nah, make that really cool.”