For the past two years, DeShawn Collins has been working at San Francisco International Airport, 30 hours a week. Sometimes, he won’t get home until 1 or 2 a.m.
Then, he gets up, goes to class at City College of San Francisco, where he carries a GPA over 3.3, and then in the afternoon, pulls on football pads. The Sacramento-Grant alumnus has been the Rams’ most potent offensive weapon this season, rushing for 923 yards on 192 carries, all with a broken collar bone.
Collins had but one Football Bowl Subdivision offer out of Sacramento-Grant, and knew he was destined for something better than the school he initially chose — FCS Rhode Island. On Sunday, quietly committed to the California Golden Bears. On Monday evening, he officially announced. On Wednesday, he’ll sign his National Letter of Intent. In January, he’ll enroll.
“He’s pretty excited about getting there and hopefully getting his MBA,” said City College head coach Jimmy Collins. “That’s the type of kid he is. He’s that driven, and sees things in a whole different perspective than most kids his age. He really sees the big picture.”
“I want to be a mogul,” DeShawn Collins said in a phone interview with the Examiner, shortly before he announced his commitment.
DeShawn Collins wants to be successful across a wide variety of industries, but wants to focus on real estate. A big part of his decision was his ability to get an early jump on schoolwork, as well as participate in spring ball. With three years of eligibility, and two years already down at City College, he’ll have a chance to earn a graduate degree at the Haas School of Business. He’ll also have the chance to make a big impact at a school he grew up watching.
With strength, balance and a little bit of wiggle, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound back is difficult to tackle behind the line of scrimmage, and even more so in the open field. His superb hands have allowed him to line up in the slot, and he has the speed to run away from safeties, along with a little bit of a burst. Savvy and field vision cap off an impressive package that’s ready to play as soon as next fall, which is why BYU, Hawaii and UNLV came calling, before the Bears.
It’s a far cry from where Collins was two years ago. Despite 4,600 combined rushing yards in his junior and senior seasons and a 3.5 GPA at Grant, his only FBS scholarship offer was from Army, to go along with UC Davis, Sacramento State and Weber State. He decided to take a scholarship at Rhode Island — a program that hadn’t won a conference title since 1985 — and made it through summer workouts and fall camp before realizing he had more to offer.
“I felt like I could play at a higher level than D-IAA,” Collins said. “I left the week of the first game … Before I even went there, I felt like I should have been going to a bigger school than that in the first place, but I went there because it was an opportunity and a scholarship. When I got there, I was like, ‘Nah.'”
Collins grew up in Sacramento watching Cal during the Bears’ heyday. He wanted to emulate the hard-running style of Marshawn Lynch, the burst of Jahvid Best. City College had sent quarterback Joe Ayoob, receiver Drake Whitehurst, receiver LaVelle Hawkins, receiver Jonathan Makonnen, and linebackers Desmond and Devin Bishop to Cal in years past. After leaving Rhode Island, Collins returned home and found that the Rams seemed a natural fit.
He enrolled at City College and in January of 2017, and began working at SFO as an aircraft guard, documenting everything that happened with planes on the ground, as he grayshirted and took classes.
The next fall, in his first game for the Rams, Collins suffered a bone bruise in his ankle on a stretch play to the left, as a defender landed on him. He had to sit out his freshman season, but that didn’t mean he was absent from the team.
“He just takes guys under his wing, is a teacher and a mentor to other players, leads by example in the weight room and all types of stuff, everything you would do off the field,” Jimmy Collins said.
In the first game of his redshirt freshman season, DeShawn Collins cracked his collar bone. He doesn’t know when or how it happened, but he didn’t tell his head coach.
“He did not tell anybody his shoulder hurt, so that he would not miss any games,” Jimmy Collins said.
He went on to gain 1,529 all-purpose yards, including 923 rushing yards on 192 carries with 10 touchdowns, 434 receiving yards (third on the team) and four touchdown catches, 129 kickoff return yards on five take-backs and 43 punt return yards on five punts for good measure.
His biggest play? A 75-yard kickoff return to set up a touchdown in a narrow 32-29 conference title game loss to the College of San Mateo. In that game, despite only rushing for 19 yards, he caught six passes for 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“He was the All-American Utility Player of the Year for junior college football,” Jimmy Collins said. “We didn’t put him back to return kicks and punts all the time because of his value, but when we were in meaningful situations, like in our conference championship game, he had a change-the-game kick return. Obviously, a fantastic tailback, but also a great receiver out of the backfield, and literally lining up at receiver.”
The last week of the season, DeShawn Collins finally went to his head coach and told him his shoulder hurt. He was promptly shut down for the delayed bowl game against Modesto., which took place on Dec. 1 because of the Camp fire. He had finally gotten an MRI on his collarbone, and was hoping he’d be able to play in the game before the results came back. Then the delay pushed the game back by two weeks.
“DeShawn is the guy who would be in the training room, getting work done on his knees or his ankles, just typical, during-the-season therapy to get healthy, but he never brought any attention to his shoulder,” Jimmy Collins said. “He never told a soul, because he didn’t really believe there was something wrong, and didn’t want to miss any games. I think that tells you everything about the guy. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of guy for a coach.”
All throughout the season, Cal running backs coach Burl Toler III had been keeping tabs on Collins, who he recruited while an assistant coach at UC Davis and Fresno State. Thanks to a pair of running back transfers — by Derrick Clark and Biaggio Ali-Walsh — the Bears pulled the trigger and offered last week. It wasn’t hard to say yes. Two days later, he silently committed.
With three years of eligibility left, Collins will not only have time to learn offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin’s offense, but he’ll be able to thrive on a team that values running backs versatile enough to be between-the-tackles hammers and who can split out wide, much like Patrick Laird has been the past two seasons.
“Cal just realized they had to jump on him now, before it was too late,” Jimmy Collins said.