ORONO, Maine — Dan Collins was demonstrating significant growth midway through his first season as the University of Maine’s starting quarterback.
It came to a screeching halt when he was driven into the turf by Stony Brook’s Dante Allen, which left the redshirt sophomore with a separated throwing shoulder.
Six months later, Collins is trying to re-establish himself as the Black Bears’ starting quarterback. He is on the field with his teammates as UMaine continues its spring season.
“I’m back to normal,” said the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from Williamstown, New Jersey, who outdueled freshman Drew Belcher for the starting spot last August.
“I did exactly what I needed to do to get back where I was [physically],” he added. “Once I felt that power and strength in [the shoulder], I could tell myself I’m ready to go.”
Collins appeared to have good arm strength and accuracy on Wednesday as the Black Bears went through their fourth of 15 spring practices on Morse Field.
On Oct. 11, Collins suffered a Grade 3 separation of the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. Five days later, he underwent surgery by Dr. Kenneth Morse of Down East Orthopedics in Bangor.
For four to six weeks, Collins had his right arm in a sling to keep the shoulder in the proper position. Initially, the hardest part was getting rest.
“I would put a couple pillows down my right side and kind of lay up on the wall with my right side and let my body sit down on the left just so I could get to sleep,” he explained.
Two months into his recovery, Collins began doing physical therapy and stretching, which opened the door for increased levels of activity.
He said the hardest part was missing out on being an active part of the team.
“It was painful to watch the games and not be out there and not be with the guys in the locker room before and after games,” he said.
After nearly four months, he started doing some light throwing and gradually extended his range as he was able to tolerate the pain and soreness.
Collins said he was never discouraged as he worked his way back.
“Every day you just push yourself more and more to make it better,” he said. “I kind of saw the light at the end of the tunnel with the treatment and getting better each day was reassuring to me.”
Collins eventually was able to throw with limited or no pain.
This spring, he is practicing while wearing a red vest during practice, indicating that he is not supposed to engage in contact.
In six games last season, playing behind an inexperienced offensive line, Collins completed 77 of 143 passes for 908 yards and nine touchdowns with two interceptions.
The team went 2-4 and he was sacked 16 times.
Collins is once again competing against Belcher to reclaim his starting position.
“There’s no shying away from it,” Collins said of the competition.
Belcher helped the Black Bears go 3-2 in the last five games. He finished as the No. 2 rusher with 312 yards on 115 carries and completed 77 of 152 throws for 740 yards with three TDs and three interceptions.
“I feel like every single down, every play, you’re getting evaluated by the coaches, whether you’re playing or not,” Collins said of having to prove himself again.
Having overcome the injury, he has a heightened sense of focus.
“You’ve got to play every play like it’s your last play,” he said. “I’m still going to play hard and how I always played.”
UMaine opens its 2015 season Sept. 5 at Boston College.