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The long road to the NFL


Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier is sitting at his locker inside Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, dripping with sweat from an early morning workout as he prepares for his second season in the NFL. The long journey he took 12 months ago to become a NFL player is still fresh in his mind.

Collier signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent after spending two seasons at Valdosta State. He knew the stigma of being from a small school was an obstacle he would have to overcome, and being undrafted was a likely fate. He spent the time leading up to the draft training in Atlanta at Velocity Sports Training with other potential draftees. Everyone had opinions on where he would go.

"I didn't really know what my situation was going to be," Collier said. "I was hearing some things about maybe getting drafted, but I didn't really care. It would have been nice to be drafted, but I just wanted an opportunity. My coach told me if I get drafted or not, all you want is an opportunity because you can compete with anybody."

With the prospect of not being drafted, Collier decided against watching the event on television. He relaxed with his family on the first day of the draft in his hometown of Shreveport, La., trying to keep his mind off his future. That all changed early on Sunday.

Collier tried to keep his normal routine and attended a church service where his mom is a musician and his sister is a member of the choir. As he was listening to the preacher deliver the sermon, Collier's phone vibrated and he tried to exit the church quietly, which is not an easy task when you stand six-foot-seven, 350 pounds.

"My mom was up front so she was just looking at me as I got up," Collier said. "They knew what was going on. When I came back from taking the call, I just shook my head to let them knowing nothing was happening yet."

It was a team on the phone letting him knowing they were interested in signing him as a free agent. t was just the beginning of a day full of NFL executives calling to gauge his thoughts. Collier was resigned to being undrafted, but knew the opportunities would be there as an undrafted free agent.

At the completion of the draft, his phone didn't stop ringing and a decision about his future was imminent. Time was precious, so he retreated to his to car to make the most important decision of his career.

"Everyone was calling and I told everybody I would call them back in five minutes," Collier said. "I felt I was getting pushed further and further into a corner. I sat in my car by myself saying, 'what am I going to do?' If you make the wrong choice, it's your career. It was a very short time to make decision. I just followed my heart."

Jacksonville was the only team that hosted him for a pre-draft visit. He grew up with former Jaguars receiver Troy Edwards, who had just signed with the Jaguars following the retirement of Jimmy Smith. He decided on Jacksonville, but made sure to call each team back to inform them.

"I felt comfortable about the decision," Collier said. "Jacksonville had kept their word because they told me they weren't going to draft any offensive linemen."

The Jaguars saw the potential in Collier and threw him right in the mix at the first minicamp. Collier admits the experience was a bit overwhelming at times.

"In training camp, you do some things good and you do some things bad," Collier said. "Everything was moving so fast and it started to slow down a little bit at the end of the year. I knew I needed to develop because coming from Valdosta to here is day and night. I was a man among boys there and now it's nothing but men here."

Collier couldn't get a read on what the coaches were thinking during the preseason. He survived the first cuts, but there was one more round of cuts before the regular season. He waited by his phone on the final day, hoping for the answer to his future.

"I called Troy (Edwards) up and told him no one had called me," Collier said. "He said, 'Fool, you don't want anyone to call. If they didn't call you then that's good. "

Collier ended up being one of only three undrafted free agent rookies to make the opening day roster, joining running back Montell Owens and defensive end Tony McDaniel. Collier played in five games as a rookie, mainly on special teams. He will be a backup at tackle when the Jaguars begin on-field workouts in early May.

"I feel like I have a lot to prove this year," Collier said. "I have bigger expectations for myself this year because I know I can survive here and now I want to see if I can play in this league. Last year was a lot of learning."

While he is glad to have the draft experience over with, he is excited about the new crop of rookies that will join the Jaguars.

"I am so glad being a rookie will be over with," Collier said. "I'm used to being the big man on campus. You have to humble yourself. I know they all paid their dues and I had to pay mine."

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