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Thunder and Lightning

Thunder Collins is back in Lincoln.Is the much talked about back ready to show Husker fans what all the hoopla has been about?

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Thunder Collin SO. running back

Lincoln - By the midway point of a 45-minute conditioning session Monday at Memorial Stadium, Thunder Collins lagged behind just a bit.

Before him, an NU strength coach ordered the group of Nebraska running backs, quarterbacks and receivers to move into the south end-zone seats. Stadium stairs awaited.Nebraska I-back Thunder Collins.
Collins was exhausted.
At that moment, life couldn't have felt much better for the Huskers' newest I-back."It just feels so good to be here," Collins said after the workout, his first in Lincoln since returning to Nebraska late last week from Los Angeles. "It doesn't matter if I'm tired. When I'm on the field, like today, I'm just thinking about nothing except football. It's like a tunnel-vision thing. There are no distractions."

The past seven months have been filled with distractions for Collins, the touted sophomore I-back recruit out of East Los Angeles. Collins first came to Lincoln in January. With his junior-college paperwork in hand, Collins was ready to enroll at NU and get a head start on his fellow Husker newcomers by participating in spring practice.

However, the NCAA vetoed Collins' transfer because he hadn't completed the required 25 percent of his coursework at West Los Angeles College, the school from which he graduated. So Collins went back to school, first at Southeast Community College in Nebraska and then at home in California this summer.

Now he's back in Lincoln for good. And he's finally eligible to play for the Huskers. Newcomers don't officially report for another 17 days, but Collins said he has plenty of work to do before NU opens its season Sept. 2 against San Jose State.

"I'm not all the way out of shape, but my endurance needs work," said Collins, who watched spring practice at Nebraska from the sidelines in March and April. "I don't want to go into two-a-days being out of shape at all. I feel that if I can get stronger over these next couple weeks, everything will come easier for me next month."

Ranked among the nation's top 25 junior-college recruits by SuperPrep, Collins rushed for more than 1,500 yards and totaled 600 yards receiving as a freshman in 1998. He redshirted last season, ensuring that he will play in 2000 - barring injury or another academic problem.

"My goals are just to help the team and help myself as much as possible," Collins said. "If I can share time, that's good. If somebody goes down and I have to step up, then I'll step up. Whatever the coaches have in store for me, I'm ready. I just want to play."Collins figures to start as low as No.6 on the depth chart at I-back.

NU returns seniors Dan Alexander and Correll Buckhalter, sophomore Dahrran Diedrick and redshirt freshmen DeAntae Grixby and Josh Davis. Nebraska coaches plan for freshman Robin Miller to split time at I-back and fullback this fall.

Two years ago, the 6-foot-2 Collins - Nebraska's tallest I-back - played at 215 pounds. He now weighs 197. Weight is not a serious concern, he said.

He said he worked out in Los Angeles this summer with a group that included Keyshawn Johnson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns rookie Dennis Northcutt.

"For the first month back," Collins said, "I was going at it real hard. I was working out three times a day. I was running hills in the morning. Then I went to lift weights. And I did sprints and agility at night."Once his class began, Collins said, it took first priority."I psyched myself out a little about the academic thing," Collins said. "When I was doing my schoolwork, I kind of had to forget about football."

Collins would have liked to practice in the spring, he said, but he'd rather miss time in March than in October or November. And from his time in Lincoln last winter, Collins met many of his future teammates.

"The guys here have accepted me," Collins said. "I'm not a new face. I don't have to waste time getting used to things. The coaches know my character, and they know what kind of guy I am. Everybody seems happy that I'm back."I'm happy to be back. I feel right at home, almost like I never left."