Dominic Collins likes to begin his day with a little reading time.
John Steinbeck is his favorite author, but Mark Twain isn’t far behind.
So how is it that Missouri's senior wide receiver who adores two of the most renowned authors in American history had to serve a one-game suspension for academic reasons last season?
“Crazy, right?” Collins acknowledged.
The problem, Collins said, wasn’t grades. It was class attendance – or rather, lack thereof.
Collins’ courses like Introduction to Leadership and Introduction to Leisure Studies didn’t interest him. So he didn’t go.
“Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a fairly smart kid,” Collins said. “I felt my classes were too easy.”
The trouble was, Collins learned that if you skip too many classes, you find yourself not in uniform on game day. That’s the scenario Collins encountered for MU’s Sept. 24 game last season against Delaware State.
He doesn’t anticipate it being an issue this season. Collins plans to beef up his course schedule with more stimulating classes.
It’s part of the new Collins, who has his mind set on earning more playing time after appearing in three games in 2016, his first year with the Tigers after transferring from Saddleback College in California.
Coach Barry Odom said Collins started showing more dedication in the spring, then ratcheted it up even more with a strong summer and solid start to preseason camp. Collins has been working with the second string as an outside receiver.
“He’s matured, and he’s making plays,” Odom said after Thursday’s practice. “Last year, he wasn’t very mature, and he wasn’t making any plays. He’s grown up a lot. I’m excited to have him competing the way that he is.”
Collins said Odom gave him two options toward the end of last season. He could either ramp up his commitment to the program or head home to California.
“I decided to commit myself to this university and this program, because they’ve given me more than enough,” Collins said.
Collins caught the eye of coaches in preseason camp before last season – “We’re thinking, ‘This guy is going to be playing a lot for us and can help us a bunch,’ ” wide receivers coach Andy Hill said – and he caught a 22-yard pass in the season opener against West Virginia.
And then …
“He just kind of fell off,” Hill said. “It’s overwhelming. You go from out in California to the middle of the United States, and you go from junior college football to the SEC, it’s a little bit overwhelming. You can’t let all that get to you. I think it just bogged him down a little bit too much.”
After a year like Collins had – one that started with promise but didn’t result in much playing time – it’s not uncommon for the player depart the roster at season’s end.
Collins said he never had any intention of doing that.
“I don’t like to run from my problems,” he said.
Heeding Odom’s request to see more commitment, Collins started spending more time at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex watching film, lifting weights and establishing more face time with teammates and coaches. A year ago, Collins weighed 170 pounds. He has since added between 10 and 15 pounds, which Hill expects will make Collins a better blocker on the edge.
Collins also put his favorite hobby – skateboarding – on hold for his senior season at Odom’s request.
“Coach Odom was concerned that I could hurt myself,” Collins said. “I mean, part of" that is them "not understanding I’ve spent my whole life on a skateboard. I’m just as comfortable on a skateboard as I am on a football field. But he told me what I had to do, and I listened.”
Collins started skateboarding at age 5 after receiving one as a gift from his older cousin, Marcellus Pullum, who is a skateboarder himself.
Collins enjoys the challenge of overcoming the repeated failures that dot the path toward learning new tricks. He’s also into snowboarding and biking.
Although skateboarding is on hold for a few more months, Collins got to pursue his literature interest in July, when he took a weekend trip to the banks of the Mississippi River. He dined on the riverfront in Quincy, Ill., and explored Hannibal, the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, who authored books under the Mark Twain pen name.
“That was one of the better experiences I’ve had, because I’ve read so many of his stories over the years,” Collins said. “It’s almost like we have a connection. That was cool going to Hannibal, Missouri. It was one of the better places I’ve been here.”
He’s in a good place with his on-field performance lately, too.
Missouri returns its three starting receivers – J’Mon Moore, Dimetrios Mason and Johnathon Johnson – all of whom had more than 400 yards receiving, but Collins hopes to prove throughout camp he deserves time in the rotation.
“I think I could help produce on the field,” Collins said. “I think my peers would say the same. I’ve won the respect of my teammates and my coaches. I just have to now stay consistent.”