Zach Collaros of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrive with the team at the Canadian North Charter Terminal in Calgary ahead of the 107th Grey Cup on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)
Those close to Zach Collaros could see it in his face and definitely hear it in his voice.
There were more smiles and there was more laughter. And he certainly seemed more at ease and more comfortable in his skin.
Officially, Collaros was parachuted into Winnipeg at the Canadian Football League trade deadline last October with three regular season games remaining and 46 days in advance of the 107th Grey Cup.
Yet, his first month and a half as a member of the Blue Bombers made such an impression the two sides agreed Monday to a two-year contract extension. And heck yeah, winning a championship certainly helped build the relationship.
“When the trade happened I really didn’t have much of an expectation for the future,” began Collaros in a chat with bluebombers.com. “I just wanted to come in and help in any capacity I could.
“But just playing, just being around the coaching staff and organization… as I was there longer it made me think, ‘Man, if I had an opportunity it would be great to come back here and play another year for Coach O’Shea and be around the locker room with these guys.’ It’s the draw of the people in the locker room and in the building that I know played the biggest part in my decision.”
The rapid evolution of that marriage became one of the more intriguing subplots to the Bombers’ memorable run to the championship last November. The club went 4-0 with Collaros at the controls, culminating with the 33-12 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup.
As those wins piled up, the idea of Collaros being in Winnipeg as simply a ‘rental’ – that he would return to the Toronto Argonauts in the offseason – started to fade, especially with none of the team’s three quarterbacks, including Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler, under contract for 2020.
And it’s here where we need to stress and build the contentment Collaros found in Winnipeg and how that led to him wanting more.
“The last three or so years have been tougher for me personally,” he said. “But in Winnipeg… it starts with Osh and having a leader like that. And everybody was just so locked into his message and what he believes. Everybody in that locker room was preaching the same thing and it made my job as the quarterback and the proxy-leader of the offence easier, as well as having LaPo (former offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice) and Buck (Pierce) there.
“There were a lot of veteran guys who made my life and my job a lot easier than it had been the previous three years. You’ve got Stanley Bryant, Yosh (Jermarcus Hardrick), Jake Thomas, Andrew Harris, Biggie (Adam Bighill), Remp (Chad Rempel), Drew Wolitarsky, Darvin (Adams), (Nic) Demski… and I’m leaving a bunch of guys out, but I don’t mean to. They’re just fun to play the game with and to be around.”
“There wasn’t a lot of stress or extra pressure,” added Collaros. “Everybody just understood their role and I just had to plug in and be the quarterback. My wife said to me multiple times, ‘I haven’t seen you this stress-free for a long time.’ Even the TSN people you sit down with for pre-game interviews were saying, ‘You’re kind of a different person.’ And I just said, ‘I’m not stressed out. I’m just doing my job.’”
Still, Collaros is very, very tight with his family and the distance from Steubenville, Ohio to southern Ontario – where he and his wife Nicole still have a home – is a lot shorter than from Ohio to Winnipeg. That becomes even more relevant given the couple are expecting their first child in April.
Again, all that seemed to make a return to the Argos seem like a natural fit.
“Everybody wants to stay close to family and obviously that plays a large role for us,” Collaros said. “At the same time, plane rides aren’t that bad and it’s a six-seven month season so we’ll be able to keep our home here in Toronto. We have a child on the way and the way the labour laws work in this country the mom could be on mat leave for 12-18 months. So, the fact that Nicole can come with me made it a very easy decision.
“If we had to have been apart and not be able to see the baby as he or she grows, that would have made the decision much more difficult.”
It was during the Bombers’ playoff run in November and especially during Grey Cup week and after the championship, that Collaros was pressed to open up about the unique elements of the story he was authoring.
Consider, after all, that he was acquired seconds before the trade deadline and then helped lead the Bombers to two wins over the Calgary Stampeders, followed by victories over two of his former clubs – the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Final and the Ticats in the Grey Cup.
But Collaros would still prefer to shine the spotlight on somebody else. All that said, he is fascinated by the possibilities of being around this Bombers team from the start of training camp through the build to the playoffs.
“After we won there was obviously a lot of excitement and you’re very happy for reaching the ultimate goal,” he said. “At some point that night I remember thinking, ‘How do we get this same feeling again next year?’ If you ask anybody, you live in the moment, yes, but if you are going to continue to play you want this feeling every single year. So, it’s how do we do it again? That’s been on my mind. What’s next?
“I’m really looking forward to growing with the team as the season goes. Every year is a little bit different and I’m looking forward to see what kind of personality we have this year. It’s really exciting. I can’t wait to get started.”