Ex-Colt Austin Collie leaves football to work with concussion facility
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 12, 2016) –The inevitable and intense internal voice will return when Austin Collie settles in front of his flat-screen TV and watches an NFL game in August or September.
I should be out there.
“I’m not going to lie to you, there are times I’ll watch football games and wonder why I’m not out there playing,” he said.
But at the age of 30, that segment of Collie’s life is over.
It began with him flashing Pro Bowl-caliber talent during a four-year stint with the Indianapolis Colts that included 179 receptions and 16 touchdowns, but sadly it was marred by four concussions and a ruptured patella tendon. It officially ended when Collie recently informed the BC Lions he was retiring after one season with the Canadian Football League team.
“I thought I’d give it a shot and see if the desire was still there,’’ he said of his one year in the CFL that saw him catch 43 passes for 439 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games. “But it took a lot for me to go out and practice and play in the games. As soon as I wasn’t getting excited for the games is when I knew I was done.’’
Collie talked in depth of his abbreviated NFL career – he spent the 2013 season with the New England Patriots – and his family, which has settled in Utah, while taking a break from his new vocation. He’s working with CognitiveFX, an ahead-of-the-curve facility located in Provo, Utah that deals with the treatment of brain injuries.
Collie first visited CognitiveFX after he suffered a pair of chilling and highly-publicized concussions in 2010 – one at Philadelphia and the other against Jacksonville.
“Not only am I working here,’’ he said, “but I’m keeping up on things and staying sharp. I’m doing everything possible on my end to make sure I’m not feeling any effects (of the concussions) or things like that.
“Right now, I feel great.’’
While working with a cutting edge company that is pro-active in the treatment of concussions is gratifying, it doesn’t rise to the level of catching passes in the NFL on a Sunday afternoon in front of 60,000 fans.
“Let’s be honest,’’ said Collie, who’s also pursing his management degree at BYU, “if you think the next segment of your life is going to amount to the NFL, you’re sadly mistaken. Nothing is going to replace that from a profession standpoint. You miss that.
“There’s not a feeling in the world that can replace that bond you build with your teammates, that fraternity you develop with the guys in the locker room.
“Other than that, things are awesome.’’
Collie and his wife, Brooke, live in Utah with sons Nash, 5, and Banx, 4, and daughter Rocki, who turns 1 next month.
“My kids are starting to get into sports and it’s fun to be able to work with them,’’ he said.
If one of his sons wants to play football, Collie won’t discourage them.
“Even though it’s a sport and it’s a dumb game,’’ he said with a soft laugh, “there are so many life lessons you just don’t get in any other sport.
“Football and my church and my parents are the top three things that have influenced me to become who I am. I’m pretty comfortable with the way I live my life and (knowing) what it takes to work hard and have success.
“Without football, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am.’’
The Colts selected Collie in the fourth round of the 2009 draft and the former BYU standout made an immediate impact. His 60 receptions in ’09 are the fourth-most by a rookie in team history while his seven touchdowns are tied for second-most.
Collie also was instrumental as the Colts reached Super Bowl XLIV against New Orleans, catching 17 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite his solid stats – 173 receptions, 1,908 yards and 16 touchdowns in 42 games – Collie’s probably best remembered for the concussions and torn patella.
“I’m just glad people know my name,’’ he said.
In retrospect, Collie’s career is one of those what-might-have-been experiences.
His NFL career essentially ended after the Patriots declined to re-sign him after the 2013 season. He expected a different outcome, especially after catching four passes for 57 yards in the Patriots’ AFC Championship game loss at Denver.
“I loved playing for the Patriots and I loved playing for Bill (Belichick),’’ Collie said.
When that door closed, he put out feelers with other teams. Several general managers and other league officials said signing him “was too much of a risk.’’
That led him to the CFL and one final push before retirement.
“I look at it as being half-full,’’ he said of his playing career. “Not a lot of people get to say they went to the Super Bowl. Not a lot of people get to say they were an all-rookie or they are No. 9 on Peyton Manning’s list of touchdown receivers.’’
Of Collie’s 16 touchdown catches with the Colts, 15 were delivered by Manning.
“The moments I had there in Indianapolis were probably the most fun time I’ve ever had,’’ he said. “I was truly in my element with all the guys. Just great, great friends and I still stay in contact with a lot of those guys.
“Hey, everything happens for a reason. You’ll go crazy thinking otherwise.’’
That undoubtedly includes the life-after-football path that directed Collie to CognitiveFX.
The facility was instrumental in assisting his rehabilitation after his two concussions in 2010. He developed total faith in the research of Alina Fong, who received her PhD in clinical neuropsychology from BYU, and Mark Allen, who earned his PhD in cognitive science at Johns Hopkins.
“They explained to me what they were doing and that you can rehab and get back to where you once were and get back to place where your brain is functionally normal,’’ Collie said. “I fell in love with that.
“They were able to assure me I could play again and there was a way to rehabilitate (the brain). That was a very new idea, kind of attacking the brain and the weaknesses and getting it back to a normal state.
“We’re very pro-active, which is kind of going against the grain of what everyone else is doing. It’s very advanced . . . in terms of rapid recovery.’’
When Collie suffered his second concussion in 2010, outsiders insisted he was risking too much if he returned to the playing field. It was time, so many urged, to walk away.
Then and now, Collie listened to specialists and himself, not the outside noise.
“At the time, people assumed I had no care for my well-being or that I loved football so much I was going to play no matter the consequences,’’ he said. “In actuality, my backup plan behind football has always been medicine. When I started having (concussion) issues, you’d better believe I was reading up on it.
“I collaborated with doctors and specialists, and ultimately came down to the decisions I made. I decided, ‘Yeah, I can still play.’
“I did care about my well-being. I was making educated decisions.’’
He still is.