LINCOLN, NEB. For a minute or two Thunder Collins thought his longest run of the season a year ago would be his last with Nebraska.
Collins completed the 17-yard run against Kansas by bouncing up and pointing toward the north end zone at Memorial Stadium, celebrating the first down he had picked up. It earned him an immediate meeting with coach Frank Solich, who did not appreciate the gesture with the Cornhuskers well on their way to a 56-17 win.
"I thought that I wasn't going to get back in," Collins said. "He told me to act like you've gotten a first down before. Have some class and just go in there and get the job done."
Solich forgave Collins for being a little too enthusiastic and this season has given the highly-touted junior college transfer a much larger role in the offense.
Already the No. 2 I-back, Collins played a little wingback last week in a 48-14 win over Iowa State. Collins finished with four carries for 62 yards and five catches for 33 more. The idea was to get Collins' speed into the game without losing starting I-back Dahrran Diedrick's power running.
"You're able to move him around in the offense and at times we can have two I-backs on the field," Solich said. "Thunder has excellent speed and excellent ability to catch the ball."
Collins said he will play at wingback Saturday when the fourth-ranked Huskers visit Baylor if that's what he is asked to do, but he doesn't want people to forget he is still an I-back. He is third on the team in rushing with 274 yards on 48 carries with four touchdowns. He's also caught six passes for 52 yards.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior ran for 72 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns in the season opener against TCU when he started for Diedrick, who was suspended for failing to disperse in a disturbance outside a bar. Collins said getting the start that way wasn't what he had in mind, but he was pleased with his performance.
"It let people know that if I ever have to step in again I can get the job done," Collins said. "Going back to second was kind of a downfall, but that was my role all along. It will work out."
Diedrick, who leads the Huskers with 577 rushing yards, doesn't mind sharing the backfield.
"With two running backs on the field at the same time, they kind of have to watch both players and that could set them off a little bit," Diedrick said. "We're having a lot of fun out there."
With a name like Thunder which really is his name Collins was an instant hit with Husker fans, who hoped his astounding totals at East Los Angeles Community College would carry over into the major-college level. But with seniors Dan Alexander and Correll Buckhalter getting most of the playing time, Collins played in just three games last year and finished with 77 yards on 13 carries.
Collins thought he was ready to play right away, but said he had a lot to learn in his first season.
"I thought Nebraska was all about running so it couldn't be too hard. There was more to it," Collins said.
For a backup running back, Collins has gotten plenty of publicity, and not all of it has been good. In June he was charged with assault after fighting with his girlfriend, Nebraska basketball player Shannon Howell.
A relative of Howell's called the police after seeing the couple fighting. Howell and Collins both said the charge was not warranted and Howell refused to testify. The charge was dropped in September when Collins agreed to enter a diversion program.
"That's the best way I had to go in that situation. I think it wasn't all that serious to do all that, but then again I'm not a judge," Collins said.