Thunder Collins

LINCOLN (AP) -- One more class will do it.

Just five weeks and a class in physical education at West Los Angeles College will finally put Thunder Collins in academic shape to enroll at Nebraska.

Five weeks of class, working out twice a day, maybe a part time job, and the most anticipated running back recruit at Nebraska since Ahman Green will be ready to practice.

Five weeks of limited time with old friends. Five weeks avoiding "hanging on the corner," and "chillin' with the guys who aren't going places." Five weeks of avoiding the fate of his father, James Collins, and a cousin, Donald, who were both shot in gang gunfire when Thunder was growing up in South Central Los Angeles.

"You've got to be in the right places all the time back home," Collins said. "In the summer, it gets hectic, is the best way to put it. You make sure you party on the outskirts, stay in the nice neighborhoods. Some days in my neighborhood are nice. And other days, you're saying, 'Oh my God.'

"But I'm going to be a Division I college football player at Nebraska. I've got a lot to lose. We can chill, but I'm not going to hang on the corner, and I'm not going to expose myself to what can happen anytime, any day."

Almost eight months ago, Collins said he would graduate from junior college in December and accept a football scholarship to play I-back with the Huskers. He did both.

He came to Lincoln in early January, with a long list of junior college courses and a degree from West Los Angeles.

The NCAA said he needed 25 percent of his hours (15 hours) from the school that gave him the degree. He had just 12 hours from West LA and the rest from three other junior colleges. Instead of going back to Los Angeles, he enrolled in enough hours at Southeast Community College in Lincoln to meet the NCAA requirement.

Oops. Another fumble. Now, armed with new advice, Collins is faced with a PE course back home to qualify. His four courses in Lincoln are going by the wayside, but his time in Nebraska was not wasted.

"I'm kind of upset because I thought I'd be ready in December, then I thought I'd be ready by June," Collins said. "But I will get this done and no more problems."

Almost every day for the last four months, Collins woke at 5 a.m. He'd report to work at Deter Foundry and toss 150-pound manhole covers onto trucks until 3 p.m.

"Everybody kept telling me it was a mild winter," Collins said, with a laugh. "Work outside and you tell me it was mild."

Collins attended Nebraska football practices. He could watch before going to classes. No workouts. No team meetings. No practices.

"And I'm a guy who almost never missed a workout in my life because I know what it does for me," he said. "Now, I'm so out of shape. I've been running for three days and my legs are dead. When I get back home, I'll be running in the sand on this three-mile course that's all uphill. Then, I run this 90-meter sand hill that's almost straight up.

"When you see me again, I'll be in a lot better shape. If I practiced this spring, I would have been rusty and you might have been disappointed. I wasn't ready to play."

In the meantime, Collins made a lot of friends in Lincoln. His roommates and future teammates, Michael Demps and DeJuan Groce, helped him adjust.

"I've met more nice people here in a few months than I had in my whole life," Collins said. "People even asked me to sign things and I'd tell them, 'I haven't played a down.' Heck, I'm not even in school at Nebraska yet.

"Some of the guys on the team acted like they were scared to talk to me, but they are the guys I'm scared to talk to because they've been through it and they've been working hard. The I-backs have been a big help, though. I'm looking forward to practicing with them."

Now, he'll have to wait until July 11 to get back to Lincoln and start work on assaulting the huge climb through the I-back ranks that include returning starters Dan Alexander and Correll Buckhalter, sophomore Dahrran Diedrick and redshirt freshmen DeAntae Grixby, Chris Butler, Josh Davis and Robin Miller.

Asked if he anticipated having any trouble wading through the depth chart:

"We've got two seniors on top," Collins said. "After they're gone, then I'll worry about trying for a starting spot."