Alex Collins’ Heart for Children Was Never More Clear Than During a Hooten’s Kickoff Classic in Fayetteville

Alex Collins, Arkansas football
photo credit: Andrew Hutchinson

Tragedy struck the Arkansas football family once again when former running back Alex Collins died in a motorcycle accident near his hometown on Sunday night. He was 28 and just 13 days shy of his 29th birthday.

According to the Broward County Sheriff’s office, Collins’ motorcycle collided with an SUV in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The crash is under investigation.

Collins played for the Razorbacks from 2013-15, earning All-SEC accolades and finishing his career as the school’s second all-time leading rusher. He then spent parts of five seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens. Most recently, Collins played for the Memphis Showboats in the USFL this spring.

It is the third time in this calendar year alone that a recent Arkansas football legend has passed away unexpectedly. Former defensive end Chris Smith, who ranks fourth on the UA’s career sacks list, died of unknown causes in April and quarterback Ryan Mallett, the second all-time leader in passing yards, drowned off the coast of Destin, Fla., in June.

The Razorbacks also lost a 2024 commitment when Dion Stutts, a defensive tackle from Memphis, died in an ATV accident a couple weeks before Mallett’s passing in June.

All four are gone far too soon, each a gut punch to Arkansas football fans, but news of Collins’ passing hit this writer particularly hard. He was younger than me by four months and was the first Razorback superstar I have the privilege of covering from start to finish.

“Razorbacks Land Collins”

My first big assignment as a young reporter with The Arkansas Traveler was a story about the crown jewel of Arkansas’ 2013 signing class. We’re talking front page and above the fold with a large, bold headline. Even though it was just the student paper, that was a big deal for a freshman with aspirations of being a sportswriter.

After all, it’s not every day that the Razorbacks reel in a five-star recruit, much less one from Florida who was ranked as the No. 1 running back in the country by 247Sports. Needless to say, landing Alex Collins was also a big deal, especially for first-year head coach Bret Bielema.

With the physical paper publishing only on Wednesdays, my story was distributed across the University of Arkansas campus on National Signing Day. I had already snagged several copies when, much to my horror, word got out that Collins’ mother had run out of his signing day ceremony with his National Letter of Intent.

That meant the heralded running back couldn’t submit the necessary paperwork to officially join the Arkansas football program. National Signing Day came and went, as a sense of uneasiness grew in the pit of my stomach. My stack of “Razorbacks Land Collins” papers were starting to come across as a rendition of “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Luckily for me and the Razorbacks, the drama ended the following day when Collins got his father to sign the paperwork and fax it in. As relieved as I was, Arkansas fans were the real winners.

Record-Breaking Career with Arkansas Football

Alex Collins hit the ground running in Fayetteville. Literally.

He was the first freshman in SEC history to eclipse 100 rushing yards in his first three games, doing so against Louisiana-Lafayette (131), Samford (172) and Southern Miss (115).

That was part of his first of three straight 1,000-yard seasons, a feat previously accomplished in the conference by only Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden.

It’s safe to say he lived up to the hype. In fact, a case could be made that Collins is the best running back not named McFadden in school history, as he ranks second all-time in career rushing yards (3,703) and 100-yard games (17).

His 2015 season was the stuff of legends. Collins ran for 1,577 yards, which is third on the UA single-season charts behind McFadden’s 2006 and 2007 Heisman Trophy runner-up campaigns, and he broke a 46-year-old school record with 20 touchdowns.

However, arguably the most memorable play of his career wasn’t even a carry. On fourth-and-25 in overtime at Ole Miss, the ball somehow ended up in Collins’ arm after Hunter Henry’s backward heave and Dan Skipper’s helpful tip. The rest is history.

How to Remember Alex Collins

After that season, Alex Collins opted to skip his senior year and declare for the NFL Draft. He was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round and spent parts of five seasons in the league, with two stints in Seattle sandwiched around a stop in Baltimore.

There were good moments, such as when he led the Ravens in rushing in 2017, but also bad. His 2018 season was cut short by a foot injury and he didn’t play in 2019 after being arrested on a marijuana charge.

What fans should and probably will remember him for, though, has nothing to do with what he did on the field. He had a thousand-watt smile and an infectious personality not always present in big-time athletes.

One story sticks out the most. In early fall of 2013, I was sitting in the stands at Reynolds Razorback Stadium watching Warren and Fayetteville square off in the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic. Suddenly, I heard a commotion a few rows back.

When I turned around, I saw a large group of kids surrounding none other than Collins. He looked like a big kid himself, in his element as he held court with the youngsters, soaking it all up. He was just a couple days removed from rushing for 131 yards in his collegiate debut and could have been doing anything else on this particular Monday evening, but he chose to be out and about amongst the fans.

The way he bantered with those kids that day, when he was just a freshman, has always stuck with me. It was just one part of what made him so unique.

While at South Plantation High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Collins also played lacrosse and picked up on Irish dancing from his football coach’s daughter. He famously continued the latter into his NFL career, using it as training to improve his footwork.

When he found out about a seventh grader being bullied for learning Irish Dance, Collins took the time to meet him before and after a game to pose for photos, bring him a football signed by the entire Ravens team and, most importantly, offer encouragement.

More than any record or on-field achievement, stories like that are what made Alex Collins special and why he’ll be so deeply missed.


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