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Tough Wauconda lineman is 'Mr. Nice'
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Wauconda varsity football standout Bret Collier with his sister, Ashley, who plays on the sophomore team.

 

Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/14/2007 12:31 AM

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It doesn't seem to jibe.

But Bret Collier has somehow found a way to mix his talents and interests with his personality.

Collier is a rough, tough, hard-hitting two-way lineman for the red-hot Wauconda football team, and is as fierce a competitor as they come.

This is a kid who, in his spare time, does "Ultimate Fighting." Technically called jiu-jitsu, it's a mix of judo, karate, wrestling and boxing with virtually no rules.

In a crazy ring that's shaped like an octagon, pretty much anything goes as the competitors wear razor thin gloves that protect their hands, but little else.

"I saw it on TV and when I went to try it, I liked it," Collier said. "But you can get your face pounded in."

Collier's got to be ruthless to survive. And he's adopted the same mentality for the football field.

Yet somehow, he's still a nice guy. Genuinely nice.

Football and fighting aside, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior who was voted captain by his teammates is described by Wauconda coach Glen Kozlowski as one of the nicest kids in school -- a school that is also celebrating Collier for leading the Bulldogs to their first 3-0 start in more than a decade.

"He's just a really, really good guy," Collier's younger sister Ashley confirmed. "I like being around him. He's very supportive of what I do. And he's always been there for me."

And Ashley means always.

When she told Bret out of the blue one day that she would be quitting cheerleading to take up football and play in the same program as him, Bret became her biggest cheerleader.

Most teenage boys would rather sit through 100 sappy chick flicks than have their baby sister hang around the football field and cramp their style with the boys.

But not Bret. He took Ashley under his giant, welcoming wings.

"We're really close," Bret said of his sister. "As soon as she told me she wanted to start playing, I was right behind her."

After playing last year with the freshman team, Ashley is now a linebacker and a fullback for the sophomore team at Wauconda. She and Bret spent much of last summer together in the school weight room as partners for the team's off-season lifting program.

"Everywhere I want to go, she wants to go," Bret said of Ashley. "And I don't have a problem with it. I'm not the jerk big brother who's always going 'Get out of here!'

"My friend's little sister wanted to play football because my sister was doing it and he was like, 'Nope, I don't want you to.' And I was like 'Dude, just let her play.' "

See. Nice guy, right?

Also nice is how much Ashley has thrived with Bret's approval and support. She's scored touchdowns. She's made tackles.

She's not just a novelty act relegated to the sidelines.

"At first, my sister was really, really hesitant. But she got into it," Bret said. "She's tough. She really hits people."

Of course, so does Bret, who is loving Wauconda's long-awaited ascension to the top of the North Suburban Prairie Division.

The first-place Bulldogs visit Antioch tonight, and Collier, who is one of the strongest and fastest players on the team, will try to keep up his torrid pace.

In just three games, he's flattened opposing quarterbacks 10 times for sacks. And he's one of the leading tacklers on the team.

Meanwhile, he's often the lead blocker for Wauconda running back Brad Wisniewski, who is one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the North Suburban Conference.

"Bret's running down quarterbacks, he's our pulling guard and getting out there ahead of Brad. He's doing a little bit of everything for us," Kozlowski said. "He's so fast and so strong. He's really an athletic kid and will definitely be able to play somewhere at the next level.

"He's the kind of kid who you know will succeed. But you also really want him to succeed, too. He's a once-in-a-lifetime kid. He's a feel-good story."

And not just because he's so nice to his sister and classmates.

Collier has flourished despite a challenging childhood.

His parents divorced when he was 10. And although he has an older brother, Collier felt like he had to become the man of the house when his dad moved out.

Collier's 18-year-old brother Jeff was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He played football as a senior at Wauconda last year, but has had some mental challenges and limitations throughout his life.

"Once my dad moved out, I knew I had to do more," Collier said. "I knew my brother would be right there behind me, but I also knew I still had to step it up. I would look after my sister, make dinner, things like that to help my mom."

In the meantime, Collier somehow managed to find time to also take up kickboxing, compete on Wauconda's wrestling team, work out like a maniac for his Ultimate Fighting competitions -- one of which he won -- and keep his grades up.

In the second semester of his junior year, he carried a 3.5 grade point average.

"One of my big goals (with Ultimate Fighting) has always been to get to the point where I'm fighting on TV. And I think I can do it," Collier said. "But now I'm kind of torn because I'm doing well in school and also in football and I'm working with a guy from (a recruiting service) who thinks I could play at the Division II or III level.

"I think it would be nice to play football in college."

Very nice.