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Friday, October 20 Local

Darien’s Finlay Collins named Hearst Connecticut Media Male Athlete of the Year

Finlay Collins needed time to think.

The two-sport star was recently asked if he remembered the last time he lost a game while wearing a Darien uniform.

“Umm, yeah,” Collins replied with a hint of uncertainty. “I think it was sophomore year to, ah, I want to say Greenwich in the regular season.”

It’s understandable that it took a few moments for Collins to deliver the correct answer. After all, that loss to which he’s referring — a 12-11 setback in overtime to Greenwich in lacrosse — occurred more than 26 months ago.

Since then, Darien is 55-0 with three FCIAC championships, three Class L titles and has climbed atop the Under Armor/Inside Lacrosse national poll. Couple that with what the school’s football team has accomplished over the last two seasons — 24 straight wins and back-to-back Class LL championships — and one will see just how prosperous Collins has been at Darien.

“It’s definitely pretty remarkable,” said Collins, the Hearst Connecticut Media Male Athlete of the Year. “If I were to go into each of those undefeated seasons telling you that we would come out with the results we did, I would be a little surprised.”

More Information

The Collins File

WHO: Finlay Collins

HIGH SCHOOL:Darien

COLLEGE: Pennsylvania

Football:Played 13 games, carrying the ball 143 times with a team-high 973 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns … Second on the team with 34 catches for 475 yards and three touchdowns … As a linebacker, recorded 94 tackles, including 13 for loss, and six sacks … Intercepted a pass by Drew Pyne in the end zone to seal a 37-34 overtime win over New Canaan in the Turkey Bowl, capping an undefeated regular season … Had five 100-yard rushing games, including three in the playoffs … Rushed for a season-high 187 yards in a 28-7 win over Ridgefield in the Class LL final … Captained a team that finished 13-0 and won its second straight state title … CHSCA All-State, Walter Camp All-Connecticut first team, All-FCIAC first team.

Lacrosse:Played 23 games, notching 32 goals and 28 assists as a midfielder … Captained a team that went 23-0 and finished No. 1 in the Under Armor/Inside Lacrosse national poll following a fourth straight state title … U.S. Lacrosse Connecticut All-American, CHSCA All-State, All-FCIAC first team.

‘THE WHOLE PACKAGE’

The legend from rival New Canaan did not mince words.

“He was fantastic. What a great football player he was,” Lou Marinelli, the state’s co-winningest high school football coach, said of Collins. “I’m so glad he graduated. He killed us. He absolutely killed us.

“He was a Ram killer.”

It’s a good bet there are plenty of coaches who can sympathize with Marinelli, the owner of 331 career victories. Collins, who stands 6-foot-1 and is made of muscle at 185 pounds, gave opponents fits on both sides of the ball. Not only was Collins a dynamic running back with his 973 rushing yards, 475 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, he was also a fearless linebacker with his 94 tackles (13 for loss) and six sacks.

“He was a freak athlete,” said Tim Graham, the starting quarterback at Darien from 2014-15. “You wouldn’t tell by his size, but he was just a tremendous athlete for how big he was. He’s a really strong kid — just the whole package.”

Collins is smart and savvy, an honors student who is headed to the University of Pennsylvania to play lacrosse and study at the prestigious Wharton School. He does everything with a passion, but as his father, Dwight, likes to say, Collins is not overbearing.

“He’s a very under-the-radar type kid who never really sought the limelight even though at the end of the day, he was a star,” added Darien football coach Rob Trifone. “He’s about as grounded a young man as you would want.”

What stands out to Trifone is how Collins came to him before last year’s playoffs in support of a teammate who was upset about being left off the roster for the trip to face Greenwich.

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“He said, ‘Coach, I really want you to think about this one young man. It would mean a lot if you allowed this one young man to dress,’ ” Trifone recalled. “Here’s a kid going into the state playoffs, you would think all the teenagers worry about is themselves and how the team’s going to perform. He’s worried about a JV kid. That kind of typifies him.”

So does Collins’ knack for making big plays. His overtime interception sealed a 37-34 win over New Canaan on Thanksgiving, and his 251 all-purpose yards (187 rushing) in a 28-7 triumph over Ridgefield secured a second straight state title.

“I love football,” Collins said. “It’s going to be tough not playing next year.”

PLAYING HIS PART

The statistics — 32 goals and 28 assists — don’t necessarily jump off the page, but there is more to Collins’ game in lacrosse than meets the eye.

“There were times when you didn’t know he had a big game because he didn’t score, but he did a lot of other great things,” Darien boys lacrosse coach Jeff Brameier said. “That’s the nature of lacrosse; sometimes the guy in the scoring column isn’t always the most dominating player.”

As a midfielder, Collins often did a lot of the dirty work, scooping up ground balls and warding off attackmen. He set the table for dynamic scorers like Kevin Lindley, who set the school-record for most goals in a season with 106 and broke Case Matheis’ record for most goals in a career with 219, and Logan McGovern (71 goals).

“He’s a gamer,” Lindley said. “He might not have gotten a lot of the goals, not a lot of the scoring, but we needed him on the field. Whenever he wasn’t on the field, even in practice, our level of play dropped.

“He was a force we needed.”

Brameier was impressed by how Collins, the son of a former Navy SEAL, was able to play with more composure in lacrosse while maintaining the mean streak that he displayed in football.

“He kind of takes his dad’s toughness and personifies it,” added former Darien football/lacrosse standout Mark Evanchick, who will team up with Collins at Penn. “He makes sure he’s one of the toughest guys on the field. There is no off-button.”

The Blue Wave (23-0) enjoyed its most productive season on offense, registering a program-record 16.8 goals per game, and thumped Cheshire 16-3 in the Class L final for its fourth consecutive state title. Over the last four years, the Blue Wave is a remarkable 89-3.

FOLLOWING A PASSION

The first offer to play lacrosse arrived in the fall of Collins’ sophomore year. It was from Penn, the same school attended by his father.

Collins didn’t need much time to decide.

“Lacrosse has been my passion since — I can’t even remember, the second I picked up a stick,” Collins said.

Collins began playing lacrosse in third grade, but admits, “I actually wasn’t very good.” But Collins put in more work in the backyard as time went on, and made strides once he started practicing with his off-hand.

“He started doing drills with his left hand very early,” Dwight said. “He got to a point where nobody could tell the difference if he was a righty or a lefty.”

It all paid off for Collins, who will head to Penn later this month.

“They’re going to have a hard time keeping him off the field for very long,” Brameier said. “He presents a physical problem for matchups and speed, and he’s got a tremendous shot with both hands.

“I think that’s what you’re going to see, is a kid that’s going to continue to develop and has an ability to score.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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