If the longest way around is the shortest way home, Charles Andrew Collins has finally found it; home to the Riverbank of Breathitt County. What a journey it’s been; imagine the possibilities lying ahead for one of Kentucky high school’s premier football players.
The long way around began with Collins excelling at Montgomery County his freshman and sophomore seasons, and then Charles Andrew furthered his reputation with an exceptional season with the Bearcats of Anderson County last year, his junior year, earning WLEX-18’s SportsZone Player of the Year. That’s not too bad considering Collins was selected ahead of Demarco Fishback (2nd Team All-State) of Frederick Douglas and Western Hills star Wandale Robinson (1st Team All-State, University of Nebraska). Collins, honorable mention all-state (2018), was also named the Class 5A, District 6 Player of the Year after running for 1474 yards and 21 touchdowns in 11 games for the Bearcats, leading Class 5A with an average of 11 yards per carry.
Breathitt fans will remember young Collins willfully running up and down the field at Montgomery County his sophomore year, scoring 32 of the Indians’ 47 points (5 TDs) in Montgomery County’s 47-12 win over the Bobcats in the Recreation Bowl. Charles Andrew ran for 2,004 yards and 29 touchdowns that year (2017), earning honorable mention all-state in the process.
Watching his brothers, waiting
Breathitt fans will also remember Charles Andrew running up and down the field at Holcomb Stadium…along the sidelines that is. As a fourth-grader, C.A. would root his brothers Will Tom (Sr.) and Jon Keith (Soph.) on to a 12-1 record and an appearance in the regional championship. As a fifth-grader C.A. ran as many yards on the sidelines as his brothers Jon Keith (Jr.) and James Fletcher (Fr.) gained on the gridiron, again seeing Breathitt finish 12-1 in the regional final.
The Blue Faithful couldn’t help but notice the potential in young Charles Andrew, running on and off the field retrieving the tee, throwing the football with his young buddies, and always endearing himself to everyone with his cheerful personality. For three more years C.A. built his persona as brother Jon Keith played his final game in 2013, and then James Fletcher played his last in 2015.
The Collins boys, along with the late Bobcat star running back Jon-Jon Gilbert, brought much attention to the community of Butterpoint on the Middle Fork River. Of their many exploits, one might remember young Charles Andrew bareback on a mule, while his brothers were on horses. Perhaps it was there The Brotherhood, as Will Tom calls it, solidified. And while their story didn’t start at Butterpoint, it’s while the Collins lived there that many came to know and love them.
Fans were anxious to finally see the youngest of the Collins boys on Holcomb Field in 2016, but they didn’t see the “long way around” coming. Instead, freshman Charles Andrew made his way to Montgomery County High School where his parents, Jon and Betty had been hired. Young C.A. was expected to help the Bobcats regain their footing, but it would be the Indians who would see revival in their football program, earning their best record in this century with Collins leading the way.
With each year came the hopes that Charles Andrew would find a way back home to Breathitt County, but after two years when he left Montgomery County for Anderson County, where his parents found new jobs, those hopes waned. C.A did for the Bearcats what he’d done for the Indians, even more, as the long way around got even longer. Collins led Anderson County in rushing and receiving yards, while returning punts and kickoffs; all the while willing Anderson County to a perfect regular season, before losing to Highlands in the playoffs. Anderson’s Coach Mark Peach said C.A. was the type of kid who’d collect his teammates’ jerseys after the game to make sure they were in the laundry. Of course, anyone who knows Charles Andrew knows he’s all about team, a concept instilled by his parents at an early age. The Collins family could best be described as a “home team” and every game’s a “home game.”
Parents Jon and Betty, along with their boys Will Tom, Jon Keith, James Fletcher and Charles Andrew, make up more than a family, they’re a selfless team. Furthermore, they not only profess their faith; they live it, unashamedly. They rooted for bulldozer Will Tom (Taco Meat), while after walking on at UK earned a football scholarship the summer before his senior season. They cheered for fearless Jon Keith as he climbed on the back of a 2000 pound bronc to win a Kentucky state rodeo championship, also earning him a scholarship to Murray State University, and they watched in amazement while cheering on James Fletcher’s magical footwork, which kept Breathitt’s football program afloat in 2014 and 2015.
And now with Will Tom, a licensed commercial airline pilot keeping watch from the clouds along with his wife Chelsea; Jon Keith, having settled down in Western Kentucky; and James Fletcher living the dream, raising daughter Bell, along with his high school sweetheart wife Brooklyn on the 120-acre family farm of 130 years in Harrison County, attention turns to Charles Andrew, who in many ways is a combination of all the goodness of his older brothers.
After all, Will Tom saw no obstacle too big to run over, while Jon Keith’s courage enabled him to see none too big to ride, and James Fletcher was willing to take on 11 defenders running 80 yards to gain 10. Charles Andrew is all of the above and then some. And when the brothers get together to relive their exploits, dad Jon says, “They’re competitors in the best way.” And as so many in Breathitt County anticipated, the brothers also imagined the youngest to have the most potential.
Considering Charles Andrew, who weighs all of 175 pounds, squats 475 pounds, benches 275, and cleans an amazing 290 in the weight room; and has a vertical jump of 33 inches, while running a 40 in the mid- 4.5s, who wouldn’t see the potential for greatness? Members of UK’s coaching staff were impressed at a camp this summer, along with Middle Tennessee’s Coach Tony Franklin. And then there’s Murray State and Kentucky Wesleyan, coached by Craig Yeast, which has already offered Collins a scholarship.
Who knows how many others will start calling as Collins joins with a Breathitt team already poised to make some noise in 2019. Junior QB Braxton O’Hara, the district Player of the Year last season is special, and newcomer Lane Weddle, a gifted athlete, appears to be in the same mold as Collins. And with the Lumberjack feeder program starting to pay dividends, the future looks very bright for Head Coach Kyle Moore’s program. Collins’ return to the program, coupled with O’Hara and Weddle, could be the spark that ignites a long run of high success for a program with three state championships.
“Awesome. Welcome back little Collins”
Charles Andrew Collins will once again be running up and down the field by the Riverbank, much to the delight of the Blue Faithful, such as that of Karen Clemons Griffith, whose Facebook post reveals, “Awesome. Welcome back little Collins. Once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat.” Or how about that of Charlie Turner, who simply says, “Yahtzee!” Within minutes of the Times-Voice announcement last week of Charles Andrew’s return, nearly 500 had responded. But now, as a senior, C.A.’s running up and down the field will move from the sideline onto the green grass of Holcomb Field, where it’ll be duly recorded, more significantly in the hearts of the many fans he won long ago.
“The ache for home lives in all of us,” says famed poet Maya Angelou. And in many ways Charles Andrew has ached to follow in the footsteps his brothers left on Holcomb Field, the field on which he dreamed of playing since fourth grade. After all, home is where one starts from, and in the case of Charles Andrew, home is where he’ll most appropriately end his high school football career. And while life often takes you to unexpected places, love always brings you home.