Lee County senior Stephen Collier, left, is the winner of both The People’s Choice Player of the Year award and The Herald’s John Reynolds Player of the Year award — the first athlete to win both awards in the same season — after leading the Trojans to a Region 1-AAAAA championship and putting up some of the best stats in the state; Westover football coach Octavia Jones is The Herald’s John Reynolds Coach of the Year after leading the Patriots to their first Region 1-AAAA title in school history; and Southwest Georgia Academy ace Madison Ragan is The Herald’s Player of the Year in softball after an incredible senior season with the Lady Warriors. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
PEOPLE’S CHOICE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2010 — Sanford Seay, Lee County
2011 —Mason Worsham, Westwood
2012 —Kenneth Hurley, Lee County
2013 — Stephen Collier, Lee County
LEESBURG — His dream was to play major college football.
And he did everything he could to make that dream become a reality.
When Lee County quarterback Stephen Collier first moved to Southwest Georgia from upstate Kentucky because of his mother’s job transfer, he was enamored with the college football recruiting process. When he was in eighth grade, he and his father wrote letters to many colleges, including SEC programs as well as many Big Ten schools.
Most college recruiters don’t want to waste their time on underclassmen who haven’t even cracked their varsity program. Collier didn’t get any responses – until one day a letter from Ohio State University arrived.
Then head coach Jim Tressel had written Collier back, sending him a signed picture and a short letter.
“It wasn’t anything huge,” Collier said. “Somebody got my letter and everything and took time to write back. We framed it and it stayed up for a couple of years. It was pretty cool. It gave me motivation going forward.”
Collier improved, became a standout at his position and signed with the Buckeyes last summer. Tressel isn’t the coach anymore, but Urban Meyer liked Collier enough to offer him a scholarship last summer after watching him perform at the ESPN Rise Elite 11 event. Collier accepted, signed with the Buckeyes and has already enrolled at Ohio State.
“Everything has come full circle now that I’m going there,” he said.
Collier committed to the Buckeyes before the season started and on many occasions, a standout player’s statistics during their senior season isn’t as good as in previous years because of the added pressure of recruiting. However, the Lee County standout was an exception.
He passed for 2,291 yards on 146-of-304 and threw 24 touchdowns. On the ground, he amassed 1,021 yards and scored 20 touchdowns as he accounted for 3,312 yards and 44 touchdowns to help the Trojans win the Region 1-AAAAA title and make the second round of the state playoffs.
That tops last season’s breakout totals of 1,887 yards passing, 485 yards rushing, 34 touchdowns and six two-point conversion attempts.
In the process, he earned The Herald’s John Reynolds Player of the Year award after an amazing senior campaign. He also garnered the fourth annual Albany Herald People’s Choice Player of the Year award, voted on by Herald readers. It’s the first time that a player has won both awards in the same season.
Collier, who is only 16, was humbled by the honors.
“I came in here as a ninth-grader not being a very good quarterback,” he said. “The coaches here helped me and without them, I’d be nothing. This season wasn’t all my doings, it was all the team’s doing. It’s a Lee County thing.”
The senior helped the Trojans to a 6-0 start before Lee suffered its first setback to Thomas County Central in a game Collier said he’d like to forget. But he helped the Trojans rally back, winning a huge game the following week over Harris County. He then helped the Trojans win their final two regular-season games, claiming the region championship in the final week of the season.
They beat Effingham County in the first week of the playoffs before they lost a thriller in the second week, nearly coming from behind to beat Mundy’s Mill. The Trojans were 25 yards from the potential game-winning touchdown when Collier’s final attempt was incomplete, sending Mundy’s Mill to the quarterfinals.
Collier took the loss especially hard. However, Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio couldn’t have been happier with Collier and his unselfish play.
“Stephen’s done so much for this football team during his time here and he played his heart out,” Fabrizio said after the game. “I am very proud of him and the effort he gave, as well as the whole team and everything they’ve accomplished this year.”
It took Collier a few days to move on from the game. But looking back, he said he wouldn’t change anything.
“The season was different than I expected,” he said. “I wanted to accomplish a lot of great things. Sure, I would have like to have gone to the state championship game, but no, I wouldn’t change anything. It was fun.”
Elite 11 made him better
Not only did Collier have a strong summer in 2013 that helped put him on the national map, it also gave him a proverbial chip on his shoulder.
He was one of two quarterbacks in Georgia invited to the Elite 11 camp, an invitation-only camp that puts some of the nation’s top quarterbacks together for a week of training and competition. The Lee standout didn’t make the cut, but he came back with a drive to do greater things.
He received a text message from former NFL standout Trent Dilfer after the competition.
“He told me to prove him wrong,” Collier told The Herald last summer of Dilfer’s decision not to select him as one of the Top 11. “He told me to make him look back and say that he made the wrong decision.
“I told him that I was going to work harder than ever before. I appreciate him giving me that chip on my shoulder. Now, more than ever before, I am hungry to be great.”
Collier may not have made the Elite 11 cut, but his teammates still viewed him as a great quarterback.
“Collier can easily be one of the top quarterbacks in the state,” Offensive lineman Jesse Freeman told The Herald back in August. “He can run. He can pass. He is the full package.”
Just because Collier made it to the big stage, receiving a scholarship to play at tradition-rich Ohio State, Lee County coaches don’t expect his demeanor to change. In fact, they expect him to stay the same smiling kid who is quick to temper excitement as well as thanking others before basking in glory.
That trait comes from his parents, Stephen and Natalie, whom the quarterback said are concerned more about others.
“My parents have been awesome,” Collier said. “They have been so giving.”
By enrolling early, he will miss many perks that come from being a senior, such as the Junior-Senior prom. In fact, Ohio State is holding its spring game on the same day as Lee County’s prom. However, he is planning to come back and walk with his class at graduation.
After posting back-to-back dream seasons in high school, Collier is about to see his dream of playing major college football realized.
That’s something even he is excited about.