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Like father, like son: Towson CB Mark Collins Jr. becoming a game-changer like his dad once was for New York Giants

At an early age, Mark Collins Jr. and his younger brother Marco watched VHS tapes of New York Giants games from the late 1980s and early 1990s and waited to see No. 25 on the screen. The man wearing that jersey was their father, Mark Collins Sr., a cornerback and safety who helped the Giants win Super Bowls XXI and XXV and was an NFL All-Pro in 1989.

To the Collins boys, there was hardly anything unusual about watching the family patriarch harass receivers and tackle ball carriers on television.

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“Growing up, it was normal. I just thought nothing of it,” Mark Collins Jr. said. “I was just like, ‘Oh, my dad played football.’ That’s just how it’s always been. Seeing that on tape and seeing all of the stuff like trophies and awards that he has around the house, it’s just normal. It seemed normal to me anyway. On the outside, people always marvel and say the same thing, ‘Oh my God, your dad played in the NFL.’ That was cool, but for me and my family, it was just something that was regular.”

Years later, Collins is treading the same path his father carved. A graduate student cornerback at Towson (4-4, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association) who transferred from South Dakota, Collins leads the defense in interceptions (two) and pass breakups (four) and ranks fifth in tackles (27).

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In Saturday’s 38-24 victory over Albany, he racked up seven tackles, recovered a fumble and returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown. Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Collins has anchored the defensive backfield.

“He is truly a student of the game and that’s really cool,” Ambrose said. “He dissects the guys he plays against, the schemes, the down-and-distance and the percentages, and it’s allowed him to really help us in a very short period of time. I’m really glad we got him.”

Collins’ play is hardly news to his father.

“That’s what he does, that’s what he’s been taught,” Mark Collins Sr. said from his home in Kansas City. “That’s his focus — do your job when the plays come to you. Is everything perfect? No. But he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.”

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Mark Collins Jr.’s journey began at an early age, lining up at cornerback and running back in flag football at 6 years old. As a freshman in high school, he switched to cornerback and wide receiver.

But before his sophomore year, Collins decided to concentrate solely on cornerback because he enjoyed playing the position and thought it was his best chance to play in college. And it didn’t hurt that he had unparalleled access to a man who spent eight seasons with the Giants, three with the Kansas City Chiefs and one each with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

“It was a big influence not only because he helped me out with the techniques and fundamentals of the position, but it was always something that was just inside of me,” Collins said. “I just always knew that I could play that position and that my instincts could take me pretty far if I just practiced and stayed focused.”

Towson graduate student Mark Collins Jr., returning an interception 80 yards for a touchdown against Albany on Saturday, is the team's top cornerback, to no surprise of his father, a former NFL All-Pro with the New York Giants.
Towson graduate student Mark Collins Jr., returning an interception 80 yards for a touchdown against Albany on Saturday, is the team's top cornerback, to no surprise of his father, a former NFL All-Pro with the New York Giants. (ENP Photography)

Collins emphasized he made the decision with no prompting from his father. But it was a perfect opportunity for Mark Collins Sr. to share his expertise.

“The mental aspect goes from zero to infinity based on what you know and based on what I knew from being in the league for 13 years,” he said. “So believing what you see, formation recognition, tips, receiver splits, everything like that, we started that process in the eighth or ninth grade. And he gets it. He can read formation. … He knows the game.”

After four years at South Dakota where he compiled 82 tackles, 25 pass breakups and four interceptions in 27 games and earned a bachelor’s in integrated studies, Mark Collins Jr. chose Towson over Arkansas State, Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan because he was swayed by defensive coordinator Eric Daniels’ suggestion that he could be the team’s top cornerback.

Collins has lived up to that reputation, especially after intercepting Albany junior quarterback Jeff Undercuffler’s throw on a bubble screen and returning it 80 yards to give Towson a 17-0 advantage with 6:08 left in the second quarter on Saturday.

“I saw the look that I was watching all week and even that morning,” said Collins, who said he last returned an interception for a touchdown as a freshman in high school. “I knew that if they were going to present that play, I would have an opportunity to jump it and make something happen, and that’s exactly what happened. So it felt great.”

As thrilling as that interception was, Mark Collins Sr. said he was more excited when his son recognized a fake slant-and-out and stopped freshman wide receiver Jackson Parker at the Tigers’ 2-yard line. Two plays later, Undercuffler fumbled the ball at the 2 and graduate student defensive end Elorm Lumor recovered the loose ball for Towson with 3:02 left in the first quarter.

“I said, ‘That was a huge play because what you did was give your team another opportunity to make a play,’” the elder Collins said. “You make the play to survive another day and that’s what happened. That’s the kind of stuff we worked on. We worked on that exact route so that he could come up and make the tackle.”

Ambrose, whose father Tim coached high school football in Frederick County for 31 years, speculated there must be a genetic and mental tie between the Collins father and son.

“When you grow up in a football family in any way, shape or form, it’s really hard to not be different,” Ambrose said. “When you grow up in a football family, you see more of the game on a daily basis, on a life basis. Your life is surrounded by the game constantly. So it’s not a surprise to me to have him be a more mature, focused football player when he grew up in the game watching his dad play. He saw more football as a child than most kids ever will.”

Giants cornerback Mark Collins Sr. stands next to head coach Bill Parcells during Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills at Tampa Stadium on Jan. 27, 1991, in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Giants cornerback Mark Collins Sr. stands next to head coach Bill Parcells during Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills at Tampa Stadium on Jan. 27, 1991, in Tampa Bay, Florida. (George Rose/Getty Images)

Weekends are peak times for Mark Collins Sr. Before watching NFL games on Sunday, he spends his Saturdays watching Mark Jr. play for Towson and Marco, a freshman cornerback, play for Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kansas.

“If they’re playing at the same time, I get to watch both of them on my patio, and it’s the coolest thing in the world as a dad,” he said. “The coolest thing is I get to sit back, smoke a cigar, drink a beer and watch them both play, and then knowing that the phone call is coming afterward, that to me is the biggest reward. So I’m in heaven watching my boys.”

Mark Collins Jr. is pursuing a master’s in communication studies. He said his objective is to follow his father into the NFL.

“Obviously, it starts with getting a shot to get there, and once you’re there, you have to excel and help your team in the best way possible,” he said. “That’s something that’s in the back of my mind. It always has been since I was a kid and it still is to this day.”

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