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Keeping the faith Peninsula kicker chases dream down southfrom White Rock Peace Arch News
White Rock, British Columbia, CANADA
By Nick Greenizan
May 12 2006
Since organized sports began courting paying customers, team brass have wracked their collective brains to find ways to put butts in seats.
There’s been “Craziest Fan” days and lucky number programs. Offbeat promotions, and B-list celebrity appearances to toss out a first pitch. And, of course, bobbleheads.
This season, the Birmingham Steeldogs – an Arena League 2 football franchise – came up with an idea of their own: Faith Night, to celebrate religion by replacing player names on uniforms with Bible verses, corresponding to jersey number.
Free Bibles were dished to the masses.
A strange idea to some, but not to Steeldogs’ placekicker Josh Collins – a Peninsula native now plying his trade down south.
He’s used to doing things differently. The 25-year-old has taken a circuitous route to pro football – eschewing minor football for soccer, and college in favour of minor pro. He hopes the road less travelled leads to his goal of lacing up in the NFL.
His journey to football began almost by accident when, as a teen, the longtime soccer player started booting balls in the park. He discovered he had a talent for kicking field goals.
“I had this little Miami Dolphins’ football, which I’ve still got it to this day, and I used to go out and kick it with my dad, just for fun,” he recalled. From there he jumped to junior football, playing with the now-defunct Tri-City Bulldogs and in Kelowna with Okanagan Sun. Along the way, he got advice from one of the sports’ all-time greats, Lui Passaglia – “He really took me under his wing,” Collins said – and declared for the NFL draft. He was passed over, but several teams inquired about his services.
The CFL took a pass too, which led Collins to the 23-team Arena Football 2 League – the minor arm of Arena Football League.
“I didn’t get a shot with the Lions, which kind of surprised me, so now I’m down here. I’m just going a different route,” he said. For a month Collins has been chasing his dream in Alabama, living at Birmingham’s Four Points Sheraton, residence of choice for the squad’s out-of-towners.
It’s been an adjustment.
On the field, he’s had to adjust to a faster game. Arena League fields are 50 yards long instead of the traditional 100, and boxed in by dasher boards – essentially hockey rink boards without the glass. The goal posts are narrower too, making even the shortest field goal attempt no guarantee. Posts are nine feet apart instead of 18, and 15 feet higher.
“The margin for error is way lower,” he said.
His off-the-field life has been a switch too. He’s the only Canadian on the team, as clubs carry just one international. Nearly all his teammates are southerners, and getting used to the culture – even just the accents – took some time.
“It’s tough getting used to the lingo. Sometimes you just have to stop and ask ‘What did you just say?’” he laughed. “It’s been an adventure, but it’s been great. I’m loving it down here.”
As for Faith Night – held Friday when Steeldogs defeated Louisville Fire 63-60 – Collins liked the idea. In a twist, Collins uniform number, 16, corresponded to Joshua 1:6 – meaning he just wore his first name on his back, instead of his last. Due to league rules, the team could only wear the promo jerseys in pre-game.
“As a Christian, I thought it was cool,” he said.
“It’s definitely the Bible Belt down here, so if it (was) going to work anywhere, it’d be here.”
Faith Night brought 10,000 fans to the game – up from the 6,000 they usually draw.
Playing in front of large crowds has been a kick – especially for a Canadian soccer player nobody expected to get this far. “A lot of people told me to give up. They said ‘You can’t do it. You didn’t go to college. You don’t have experience. It can’t be done.’”
Collins knows he can. He just needs a little faith.