Alema Collins has laid the groundwork throughout his college career. The defensive end from Herriman, Utah, was one of two NAIA Players selected to play in the Hula Bowl. (The other, Josh Brown, talked to us here.) But playing in the Hula Bowl is just laying the groundwork for a bigger dream – playing in the NFL.
We Just Grinded Every Day
Collins knows what it is to put in work. A transfer from Eastern Arizona to a brand-new Ottawa (AZ) squad, Collins knew what it would take to find success. Said Collins, “We had this thing called 50-50. They’ll [the coaches] do their 50, and we’ll do our 50. Our 50 is in the classroom, and whenever we hit the workouts, all that stuff. So it’s just all about hard work. And you know there’s a difference. We had a great coaching staff. They had a great relationship with each other, so it really affected every one of us, especially with me. So we just worked super hard, and just played the cards that we’d been dealt with. We just grinded every day.”
That hard work paid off, as the Ottawa Spirit made their way to the NAIA playoffs in only their second year in existence. Collins’ presence at defensive end was a force in an offensively-minded conference. His 10.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks were second on the team in both categories. While Ottawa would fall in the first round of the playoffs to Josh Brown’s College of Idaho, the breakout season has put the Spirit on the map in the NAIA.
Hawaii isn’t foreign to Collins. His grandmother lives on the islands – which made the players’ visit to the Polynesian Culture Center all the more special. He served as a de facto tour guide, saying, “I’ve been there a few times [the Polynesian Culture Center] growing up as a kid. So I showed the guys around, and the guys on my team just showing them how things are out here in Hawaii. And I feel like they all had a great time, and so did I.”
Collins took us through getting the invitation to the Hula Bowl. He noted, “…it was an amazing opportunity, especially being from an NAIA school, and not just in an NAIA school, but through your program. It was huge. It was every emotion you could think of. But that whole process was awesome. Just to see, to go get guys that play at the D1 level, and pretty much all over the country was pretty cool.” But he wasn’t fazed by the competition, saying, “…just to compete against guys that won a national championship at their level was really, really cool, and just awesome just to get to go there and just get better and to see where you’re at in your craft.”
And what did the defensive end find? He admitted that the competition was stiff, remarking that “I feel what surprised me the most was definitely the size difference. There were some big dudes there.” Collins didn’t let that get to him, though, saying, “I just came in, and I knew my work, and I knew what I can do. And I knew that I was in the same position as all these guys and that it didn’t matter what school I came from. All that mattered is that we all ended up in the same spot, and we’re all trying to shoot for a job, and we’re all competing for one.”
Just for Fun
One of the best things about college all-star games like the Hula Bowl is swapping helmet stickers. I asked Alema what sticker he wanted the most. His choices? A couple of SEC powers: “For the longest time, you try to get Breiden Fehoko’s sticker, he played at LSU. But everybody was going after his. So his stickers went out really quick. But I think honestly my favorite sticker was the Auburn sticker.”
As for food, Collins knew what his favorite place in Surprise was – Ono’s Hawaiian Barbecue. “I’m like a local kid, and like growing up eating Polynesian food, like I love to go to Ono’s,” remarked Collins. But what does a man with Hawaiian ties get at a Hawaiian restaurant? “I like to get the mixed plate, because that’s with katsu chicken, with mac salad, and rice, and then with some beef. And it’s like spread out with teriyaki sauce, and it’s one of my favorite plates.”
My takeaway? Something tells me that this young man will be eating the lunch of opposing offensive linemen in the National Football League