Clinton Collins developed a reputation for being one of North Texas’ most determined competitors during his four years with the Mean Green.
UNT coach Carl Sheffield says that attitude has more to do with Collins’ success than just about anything else in the 400 meters — an event that requires runners to crank up nearly to full speed and then keep it up for one trip around the track.
If Sheffield asked Collins to go a little harder in practice — or a little farther — the senior never wavered.
Collins carried that approach over to the classroom and has seen that consistency pay off in the last few weeks when he reached two long-term goals, a berth in the NCAA outdoor track championships and an acceptance letter from Creighton’s doctoral program for occupational therapy.
The former Keller Fossil Ridge standout will compete in the 400 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, on Wednesday, before heading off to graduate school.
Chasing both goals at once led to a lot of long nights that turned out to be worth the effort.
Collins, who qualified for the national meet by finishing seventh in the West Preliminary meet, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in late May, posted a 3.85 grade-point average in 21 hours in the spring semester after compiling a 3.6 GPA in 19 hours in the fall. He will finish his college career with a 3.5 GPA.
“When I first signed up for that many hours,” Collins said, “I didn’t think I could do it, but I said, ‘You know what, you are in this situation. You better start believing.’ I did and took it one day at a time. After the first day of the semester, I said, ‘That wasn’t so bad.’ Then I went on to the second day, the third day and so on. I gained confidence that I could do it.”
Collins credited his ability to handle all his responsibilities in part to his familiarity with the rigors of competing as a collegiate track athlete. He knew how to fit in workouts around his classes and the time he spent studying.
The process was often exhausting, but Collins stayed with a seemingly endless cycle of classes, homework and practice with little time for anything else between.
“Clinton wants to help people,” Sheffield said. “He got into occupational therapy and never changed his mind. It hurt him at times because he was tired, sleepy and didn’t run well the next day, but he knew he needed to do it if he wanted to go to graduate school.”
Collins, who is majoring in kinesiology at UNT, had to apply and interview at Creighton. His overall academic resume earned him the opportunity to chase his professional goal of becoming an occupational therapist and helping people recover from health setbacks, whether they involve accidents or disease.
“I have a facilitation and appreciation for everyday tasks that we are able to do as human beings and our ability to adapt and function in our everyday life,” Collins said. “Having those two things inside of me makes me want to go that route and study the things we take for granted.”
Collins could have applied to a school with a master’s program in physical therapy, but was attracted to Creighton’s program because it offers a quicker path to his doctorate.
Collins sometimes doubted that he would be accepted due to the high number of people who apply to the program.
“Getting into Creighton was harder than anything I have ever done athletically,” Collins said. “Track doesn’t hold a match to what it took to get into Creighton, especially in a health-related field because that is what Creighton is known for — basketball and the health profession.”
While pursuing his professional goals was the bigger challenge for Collins, Sheffield can see the same determination from him on the track.
“Clinton is the consummate athlete, the guy you pick first on your team,” Sheffield said. “Everything that he needs to do to do well, he wants to do. That is what makes him good.”
That drive is particularly valuable in the 400, which both Collins and Sheffield described as a test of wills. There is no time to back off in a race that requires athletes to go nearly all out for almost a minute. Collins enters the national meet ranked 19th in a field of 24 with a time of 45.85 seconds.
“The 400 is a painful event, but it is also rewarding because you put so much work into it and endure so much pain during the race,” Collins said. “To see the final result is what makes it so rewarding.”
There were times over the last year when Collins was unsure if he would reap those rewards — from the berth in nationals he chased on the track to the acceptance letter to Creighton he sought.
Collins has both now as he nears the end of the journey that helped him mature as a person and develop as an athlete.
“I feel like this year I grew up the most with the experience of trying to get to nationals and into grad school,” Collins said. “I grew as a person. The one thing that was the biggest fear was to not get there. It’s like a weight has been lifted. It came down to day by day working at accomplishing both, even though I was a long shot in each.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.