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Steven M. Sipple: Collins worked hard for NFL board's 2nd-round grade

Steven M. Sipple: Collins worked hard for NFL board's 2nd-round grade

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Maliek Collins' athleticism impresses NFL coaches and front-office types.

He has an elite-level football frame, and he's ultra-quick off the ball, especially for someone his size.

There probably is at least one other reason the 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive lineman recently received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

His work ethic is excellent.

In three seasons at Nebraska, he missed two practices.

"I just take pride in being able to practice every day," Collins said from Phoenix, where he's training in advance of the Feb. 23-29 NFL Scouting Combine. "I always think of outworking my opponent. I want to study film more than my opponent. I want to have the edge on gameday.

"There's nothing worse than looking back on a game and thinking, 'Ah, man, I got outworked.' That's embarrassing to me."

He long has considered himself an underdog. He embraces that mentality. He likes to prove doubters wrong. So, that second-round grade is nice. But it drives him to improve.

In addition to the favorable grade, Collins said his decision to forgo his senior season was "based on my family situation. Me being in college and living with my 2-year-old son (Maliek Collins Jr.) and my girl. Really, it's just the best decision."

His confidence is bolstered by the interest teams have shown in him.

"I'm a guy a lot of teams were kind of looking for to come out (of school)," he said. "Some teams want to draft me. And it's just always been a dream of mine."

Since his arrival at Nebraska in 2013, it was in the back of his mind to play three seasons in college and jump to the NFL, assuming the opportunity was there. It's there. He earned it.

Collins, though, wants to make something clear.

"I really appreciated my time at Nebraska," he said. "It's a place I'll always have love for. It's my alma mater. It's a part of me."

Collins' sense of loyalty is an endearing trait. It's also interesting that he's very protective of his legacy at Nebraska. In that regard, he said he'll always remember something former Husker defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski told him.

"Coach Kaz always told us players, 'This is your home, this is where you chose to play college ball. The fans won't always remember us as coaches, but they'll always remember you as players,'" Collins said. "Kaz said you always want to treat those fans with respect, just because of the support they give the players, the student-athletes."

Collins remains close to Kaczenski, who recruited him out of Center High School in Kansas City, Missouri. Collins had kind words for both Nebraska coaching staffs he played for. He said he appreciates the fact Mike Riley was supportive of his decision to turn pro. Collins said Riley's stance was straight-forward: The coach would've loved to have Collins return for his senior season, but Riley understood Collins' opportunity.

"I didn't have the great season I wanted to have this year," Collins said. "But through the different things that I learned from the coaches I had at Nebraska, I was able to keep fighting through the situation and look at it from a positive standpoint."

He's quickly moved to the next stage of his life. He's being represented by CAA Sports, which in the past 15 years has represented nearly 100 first-round picks, according to its website.

He's training in Phoenix until the combine begins in Indianapolis. He hooked up with EXOS Athletes Performance Institute, figuring if its methods were good enough for J.J. Watt, they were good enough for him.

Collins' objective is simple: "It's really to become the best me possible," he said.

When the draft ends April 30, rookies soon will head off to camps. As far as Collins is concerned, it's go time. Right now.

As for that second-round grade, yes, that made his decision easier. He said he couldn't "leave it on the table." But it doesn't diminish his hunger. You get the sense Collins always will play with the hard edge of an underdog. What's more, those grades can move, he said, and he plans to move up — which would be a nice way to begin building his legacy in the NFL.

His legacy at Nebraska is secure.

"I do thank Coach (Bo) Pelini and the University of Nebraska for offering me a scholarship and welcoming me with open arms and allowing me to have a successful career," he said. "I especially thank the fans. If you suck, they'll let you know."

He chuckled. He had his share of good times in Lincoln. Bottom line, he showed up every day and worked hard. Fans always appreciate that. So do NFL folks.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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