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January 9, 2018

Zach Collaros will be reunited with some old friends

Liam Richards/Electric Umbrella

Peter Dyakowski and Zach Collaros have a history — and a shared affinity for history.

During their three seasons together with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Dyakowski and Collaros regularly discussed historical events. Those chats ended when Dyakowski left the Tiger-Cats in 2017 to join the Toronto Argonauts and, subsequently, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

But after Collaros was acquired by Saskatchewan last Wednesday, the quarterback jokingly told the Hamilton Spectator that he was looking forward to reuniting with Dyakowski to once again “learn about various obscure elements of world history.”

“Zach is a voracious consumer of history,” Dyakowski says with a chuckle. “He’s a fantastic buddy to converse with. We’ve travelled near and far over many centuries in our conversations and it’s not a one-sided relationship at all. He has turned me on to a bunch of really interesting books and podcasts. It’s quite the complementary relationship.

“There’s more to Zach than meets the eye. He’s not just a great quarterback. He’s a great conversationalist, an amateur historian and a great friend.”

The Roughriders acquired Collaros from Hamilton for a second-round pick (10th overall) in the 2018 CFL draft. He’s one of five quarterbacks currently on Saskatchewan’s roster, joining Brandon Bridge, Vernon Adams Jr., Marquise Williams and David Watford.

The 29-year-old Collaros spent his first three seasons (2014-16) in Hamilton as the Tiger-Cats’ undisputed starter, but injuries limited him to 35 contests over those seasons. He started eight games for Hamilton in 2017 before losing the No. 1 job to Jeremiah Masoli.

In Saskatchewan, Collaros will be reunited not only with Dyakowski — a veteran offensive lineman — but also with former teammates like receivers Bakari Grant and Chad Owens and defensive backs Mike Edem and Ed Gainey.

When Collaros and Grant were teammates in Hamilton in 2014 and ’15, the slotback learned all about the quarterback.

“Personality-wise, he’s one of the most laid-back people you’ll probably ever meet,” Grant says. “He doesn’t really have that angry side or that aggressive side that people see when some of us get on the field. But when he puts the pads on and when he lines up, he’s one of the most competitive people you’re going to see.

“He’s definitely a locker-room guy. He’s all about team and he wants people to push to be their best. When he hits the field, he expects to win not only every game but every play.”

“You have to have a quarterback with that energy and that intensity because everyone feeds off that,” adds Dyakowski. “He’s the leader of the offence. Between every single play in the huddle, the entire offence is focused on him, so what kind of energy is that guy putting out? It’s a huge advantage to have a guy like him with that level of energy and intensity.”

On the day the trade was announced, Roughriders assistant vice-president of football operations and administration Jeremy O’Day referred to Collaros’ competitive fire as one of his strengths. Chris Jones — Saskatchewan’s vice-president of football operations, head coach and GM — echoed O’Day’s words later that week.

Grant and Dyakowski share that outlook as well, with Dyakowski suggesting that Collaros was “always the most competitive guy” in the Tiger-Cats’ table tennis wars.

“You see it on the field, you see it in the middle of a drive, you see it in practice and it comes out on the ping pong table,” Dyakowski says. “It’s not something that he can turn off. It’s a huge facet of his personality and one of the things that makes him so good.”

What other attributes does Collaros bring to the Roughriders?

“He’s a very detail-oriented guy,” Dyakowski replies. “He’s someone who’s going to take an offence and completely absorb it inside and out.

“Someone like that getting plugged into an offence like we’ve got is a perfect fit. We’ve got a tremendous system and it’s something that he’s going to take to naturally. It’s right up his alley.”

Grant points to Collaros’ ability to read defences as a strength, but says the QB’s penchant for getting outside the pocket and making plays downfield is one of his biggest assets.

Grant’s familiarity with Collaros should result in immediate chemistry for the duo, just as it did for Grant and Kevin Glenn last season.

“That’s the benefit of having guys who I’ve been around: I know how they throw the ball and what type of throw they like to make,” Grant says. “That will be a benefit for me and Zach. We already have that leg up on a new quarterback-receiver combination.”

Dyakowski also will have an idea of what Collaros likes to do in the pocket and where he likes to set up. That, the guard says, has created “a level of understanding and a depth of relationship that’s going to be very helpful.”

Their familiarity with one another also has given Dyakowski some idea of Collaros’ mindset coming off a difficult 2017 season.

Collaros went 0-8-0 as the Tiger-Cats’ starter last season, throwing for 1,767 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions while being sacked 20 times. He had just one 300-yard passing game and his average of 6.6 yards per pass attempt was the lowest of his career.

Masoli, meanwhile, posted a 6-4-0 record, threw for more than 300 yards in a game six times, tossed 15 TD passes against five picks, and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt. He was sacked 17 times behind an improved offensive line.

In Dyakowski’s mind, Collaros’ struggles in 2017 will be a motivating factor in 2018.

“For a guy like him, as competitive as he is and as good as he is, he wants to come back and prove to not just anyone in particular but the whole league that he’s one of the best out there,” Dyakowski says. “We’re very fortunate to have made such a smart acquisition here and it’s going to be exciting blocking for him.”