No one from Munday, Texas has ever made it to the NFL. Former TCU defensive end L.J. Collier has the chance to change that trend in April.
Coming from a town with a population of just under 1,300 people and only one blinking stoplight, Collier’s used this opportunity to put his hometown on his back and make a name for himself.
“My hometown is riding with me, and I appreciate that a lot,” he said. “I wear my heart on my sleeve and carry myself the way that I do because a lot of people here came from big-time schools, so I worked really hard to prove that you can play with the best, no matter where you come from.”
His successes at TCU have even created collegiate rivalries in Munday. Originally an area with a huge Texas Tech fan base, Collier has made the color purple a little more common.
“There’s actually a lot of rivalries,” his geometry teacher-turned-mother figure Christel Shahan said. “I go into the classrooms and we’ve got some second graders that have had beef whether TCU or Tech is better. They idolize him.”
Under-recruited coming out of high school, TCU was Collier’s only collegiate offer, but he said he’s very lucky that he was able to play for head coach Gary Patterson.
“Getting to work with Coach P was an honor because I already knew what he could do,” Collier said. “He told me when he came to my high school that he could make me into the best player possible, and I feel like he did that.”
However, Collier did not start a single game for the Horned Frogs until his senior season, which is why he believes he “slipped under the rug.”
He redshirted his freshman season on campus before playing in four games in 2015 and recording one tackle. He played in 13 games as a sophomore, totaling 21 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
In his junior season that was highlighted by a three-tackle and sack performance in the Alamo Bowl, Collier played in four games and recorded 18 tackles, 4.5 of which were for loss, four sacks and an interception.
Collier evolved from a reserve to an All-Big 12 selection his senior year with a career-high six sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best edge rusher in the Big 12 last season.
“In the last six months since he’s kind of blown up, his confidence has become better,” Collier’s girlfriend Samantha Lane said. “He’s become more confident in his skills. Even in carrying himself he’s become more confident. I’ve seen him become more well-rounded.”
After using his senior year to boost his stock, Collier played in the Senior Bowl to get his name out there to NFL scouts and coaches.
“I knew that if I played hard, and just the way that my play and my style is, that someone would notice me,” Collier said. “I’ve shown that at the Senior Bowl with the best of the best, the best offensive linemen in the country, I ran through them, I ran around them. I proved that I was athletic, I proved that I could drop and catch weighing 280 pounds.”
And notice him they did. Collier said he has roughly 30 visits scheduled with professional teams. He had a workout with the Cardinals, has one with the Ravens Saturday morning and another with the Saints on Monday.
At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.91-second 40-yard dash, recorded a vertical jump of 30 inches, a broad jump of 118 inches, a 25-rep bench press, a 7.71-second three-cone drill and a 4.78-second 20-yard shuttle run.
“Overall, I’m just taking it in and talking with teams,” he said. “It’s very humbling. I could just be where I’m not getting any attention at all because I was under-recruited and didn’t get to play a lot, but you use that as motivation to keep grinding out and be very humble.”
Collier credits his support system to get him to the brink of being drafted to play professional football: Lane, Shahan, his dad, his sister and cousins.
Collier’s relationship with Shahan began when his coaches asked her to help him improve his ACT score, but once his mom passed away her role increased into more of a mother figure.
“She taught me geometry in high school, but she kinda just helped me through stuff, my ACT and all that,” Collier said. “She’s just been there to get me through things and talk about stuff like that. She’s family now.”
Shahan tries to go to all of the local football games to support Collier and continues to stay in touch with him daily.
Shahan described him as a “fun, loving, kind-hearted, caring guy. He never meets a stranger.”
Lane said she’s been the person for him that he can always come to when he needs something and Collier said she’s helped him get through a lot in life.
“If he wants to be excited, we’ll be excited together,” she said. “If he wants to vent his frustrations, I’m going to listen. I’ve just been that person for him and we’ve been that person for each other. Whatever situation we’re in, we’re going to be whatever the other person needs.”
Collier has a lot of strengths that could land him on an NFL roster in the early rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft. He’s an aggressive defensive end with the acceleration to push offensive guards into the pocket. He has good hands and strikes with a quick extension to keep his frame upright.
“I’ve seen the potential from day one,” Shahan said. “He saw the potential from day one. Not many people saw it, so I had to keep him on track to continue to see it, so it’s exciting. It’s very exciting. He’s a big deal in our small town.”
With the entire town of Monday behind him, Collier hopes to hear his name called in next month’s draft, which begins April 25.
“I’m so excited,” Lane said. “We’re always like ‘Where do you think we’re going to end up? What city do you think we’ll move to? What adventure will we start?’ It’s all an adventure and it’s going to be exciting.”