CINCINNATI - Zach Collaros said he has no idea what will unfold during the NFL Draft this weekend, but is looking forward to different doors opening as his professional future gets under way.
"I really don't know what's going to happen," said Collaros. "I have been hearing from my agent a little bit. There is a feeling out there that some teams are thinking about drafting me and for me not to worry about free agency.
"Others have said that free agency is the way to go. I'm just excited for the weekend.
READY FOR DRAFT -- Steubenville Big Red graduate Zach Collaros is ready for the NFL draft, which starts this evening.
-- Ron Gardner
"Some people say it's better to get drafted because a team has money invested in you already. Whatever happens, I will go there and work hard."
The first round of the NFL Draft will be held tonight in Radio City Music Hall in New York. The second and third rounds will be Friday and rounds 4-7 on Saturday.
"Being healthy and performing well at my pro day has helped my chances," Collaros said of that March 2 day. "I threw well that day. What made it special was that my dad, coaches and buddies got to be there to watch it.
"I trained for about six or seven weeks at a place down here in Mason, Ohio. They know all the drills and techniques associated with pro days. A day like that is something you're not used to, because it's about drills and not about playing football. You have one shot to impress everyone.
"But, once we got going, I didn't even think about it."
Collaros finished his career as quarterback at the University of Cincinnati completing 62 percent of his 783 passes for 6,272 yards, 51 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
He also ran the ball 268 times for 809 yards and 16 scores.
The 2006 Steubenville Big Red graduate started 21 of the Bearcats' last 24 games. He missed three last last year because of a broken ankle suffered at Paul Brown Stadium against West Virginia University.
"I knew it was broken right away," he said.
The injury sustained on Nov. 12 was not going to keep him from Cincinnati's Auto Zone Liberty Bowl game against Vanderbilt on Dec. 31.
"I had been injured the previous year, but that was only two or three weeks. This was different. But we have one of the best training staffs in the country with (Bob) Mangine, (Joe) Rauch and (Emi) Matsuno and they did a great job with me," Collaros said. "We were there early in the morning and we would leave in the evening. It was nonstop. I would have exercises, I would run in the pool and I would try to stay in shape for the bowl game.
"It was rough. I hope I never have to go through that rehab process again.
"I was able to play in a bowl game because of the work we all put in. We won and that's all that matters."
Collaros was the back-up to Tony Pike in 2009. When Pike was injured midway through the season during a game against South Florida, Collaros took over.
On his third snap, he ran for a key 75-yard touchdown and went on to start the next four games while Pike recovered from a broken arm.
Collaros won Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors after racking up a conference record 555 yards of total offense (480 passing, 75 rushing) and accounting for three touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) in a 4845 win over Connecticut. In four starts, the second half of the USF game, and several cameo appearances, Collaros racked up relatively big numbers (1,434 yards and 10 TDs passing, 344 yards and 4 TDs rushing) in 2009.
The 23-year-old was Cincinnati's starter his junior year as new coach Butch Jones took over after Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame before the Sugar Bowl loss to Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators.
"I didn't think it was a big surprise when coach Kelly left," said Collaros. "You would have to be pretty naive to think he was not going to take the Notre Dame job. It's hard to pass up everything that goes along with that position. It's hard to pass up the tradition. I sure didn't blame him for leaving.
"When coach Jones got here, he brought a different culture to the table. They are both great coaches. They just have different ways of leading a program. Both are winners. I enjoyed playing for both. I am happy I played for coach Kelley and I am happy I played for coach Jones.
"After you are used to something for three years, and you see it produce winning results, the hardest part is to change. Guys used to say 'we used to do it this way and we won.' Coach Jones was very different from coach Kelly in the way they did things. It wasn't always easy.
"We did not have a great season first year under coach Jones.
"I think that was the first time I had been a part of a losing season in anything. It was definitely rough on all of us. When you are winning, a lot of things slip under the rug. I learned a lot about me as a player and as a person. I learned how to respond when facing adversity like that."
Cincinnati finished that year 4-8, losing five of its last six games.
He led the Big East with 2,902 yards and touchdowns with 26 and was selected as the First-Team All-Big East quarterback.
The Bearcats were 10-3 a year ago and won the Big East title.
"I liked coach Jones from the minute I met him," said Collaros. "I was happy in his second year we earned a Big East championship for coach Jones and the senior class."
Collaros knows what he wants to do once the playing days are over.
"I want to get into coaching one day," he said. "Football is my passion. I love being around it. I've been around it my whole life. I remember in high school coach (Anthony) Pierro, coach (Mike) Haney and coach (Bob) Radakovich all said the same thing, 'you are going to end up being a coach.'
"I like all the different schemes, the difference philosophies. It's very interesting. I enjoy doing it. I know I'm not going to get that adrenaline rush ever again if I'm not on the field. I like that rush.
"I want to coach at the college level. When I was hurt, coaches from different teams talked to me (about being a graduate assistant). I think I've done well with networking. We have coaches at Notre Dame and Buffalo. But, coach Jones is someone I look up to. He's been loyal to me and I want to be loyal to him.
"I've always known I wanted to do this. I've always tried to look at things from the players eyes and from the coaches eyes. I empathize with the coaches. I've always felt like a coach, which is one reason I wanted to get into it.
"The hardest part during my injury was sitting there. I tried to analyze everything from a coaching perspective and then going out and playing it when I had the chance."
Collaros also hasn't strayed far from his Steubenville roots.
He was 30-1 as a starting quarterback for head coach Reno Saccoccia, winning 30 in a row and the Division III state championships in 2005 and 2006. He was Ohio's Division III Player of the Year his senior year. He was named to the EA Sports All-American Third Team after completing 68 percent (136-of-201) of his pass attempts for 2,550 yards, 30 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also accrued 720 rushing yards, including 15 scores. Collaros was also a two-way player, who compiled three returns for touchdowns as a senior. He broke every Big Red passing record at the time.
"I don't know if I would have been able to make it these five years at Cincinnati without that coaching staff," Collaros said. "Coach Sac, coach Pierro, coach Radak and coach Haney, I've talked to those guys on a weekly basis for the past five years, even if it wasn't about football.
"They definitely helped me. We've been so close since I was a junior in high school.
"My parents and my family are definitely the most important people in my life, but the Big Red coaches are a big part of it, too."