Forest Grove wideout Zac Collins relishes his chance to play in the Les Schwab Bowl

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove graduate Zac Collins lines up at wide receiver during the 2014 Les Schwab Bowl, which was played Saturday in Hillsboro.HILLSOBORO — Zac Collins saved his top high school highlight for last.

A recent Forest Grove graduate, Collins played on the victorious North team in Saturday’s Les Schwab Bowl, staged at Hillsboro Stadium.

The game — which started as the Oregon Shrine Game in 1948 — annually pits many of the top big-school graduates from across the state against one another for North versus South bragging rights.

In a back-and-forth affair, the South threatened after former McMinnville quarterback Gage Gubrud hit Springfield’s Taylor Travess for an 11-yard score with 14:52 to play, cutting the South’s deficit to 24-21. But former Aloha star Maurice McSwain returned an interception — his second of the afternoon — 35 yards for a touchdown with 2:26 to go to seal a 31-21 win.

After a one-year absence, a Viking was among the members of the North roster, and this one loved every bit of the experience.

“It’s pretty cool, being able to win an all-star game and actually play,” Collins said as players milled around on the field after the North’s victory.

Collins was actually one of five players from western Washington County to participate in this year’s contest. Former rivals Zach Allen and Daniel Hernandez of Century, as well as Glencoe’s Kainoa Hanchett and David Vanoudenhaegen joined him on the North roster. Former Crimson Tide coach Steve Jones was a member of the North coaching staff.

The former Forest Grove star enjoyed an unusual position throughout the week. The players and coaching staffs stay at Pacific University during the week before the game, practicing, getting to know each other, and going on excursions. As the only Forest Grove resident in the bunch of players — more than 70 in all — Collins was the go-to guy.

“That was cool,” he said. “Everyone had to come talk to me if they wanted to know where the food is and stuff. You make friends that much quicker.”

And then there was the game. Collins was named to the team as a wide receiver. Though the ball did not come his way often, he still hauled in two passes for a total of four yards.

But Collins also contributed in other ways, recording a tackle on special teams and holding the ball for Southridge’s Alexander Beekman on field goals and point-after tries. During the week, a coach asked the North side if anyone had held during the season. Collins had, so he volunteered and got the job.

In fact, with Collins holding, Beekman converted the point-after for all three of the North’s offensive touchdowns and also booted a 30-yard field goal late in the first quarter to stake his team to a 10-0 lead.

The South rallied for a 14-10 lead a quarter later on Hunter Hermansen’s (North Medford) 58-yard fumble recovery, but Central Catholic’s Aidan Wilder scored on a 6-yard quarterback keeper with 17 seconds remaining in the half, staking the North to a 17-14 lead it would not relinquish.

“The main focus was winning, but having fun was also part of it, because you get to meet so many of these kids that are in the same shoes as you, ready to go off and trying to win that one last game,” Collins noted. “Everyone out here wants to win, but they also want to have fun.”

There was time for fun, and even some community service during the week, too. The teams practiced every day, squared off in a chicken wing-eating battle, and staged a visit to a local children’s hospital.

The schedule also allowed some downtime, when Collins bonded with some of his fellow players over games of “Go Fish,” with 15 or 16 guys getting in on games, limiting them to a couple of cards each.

“It was getting intense,” Collins said. “We played a lot of cards.”

In all, it was a week full of memories, and one that Collins will keep as he makes the transition from high school athlete to college football player. Collins reports to Western Oregon in Monmouth on Aug. 12 to begin his college career.

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