Sports: Als' Murray, Bombers' Collaros have mutual admiration from their days at Steubenville High

Elks face big challenge taking on unbeaten Bombers in Edmonton

  Elks face big challenge taking on unbeaten Bombers in Edmonton A huge challenge awaits Taylor Cornelius and the Edmonton Elks. Cornelius helped rally the Elks (2-4) to a 32-31 road win over the Montreal Alouettes last week in his first start of the season. But on Friday night, Edmonton faces the unbeaten Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-0). The defending Grey Cup champions are the CFL's lone undefeated team after knocking off previously unbeaten squads in consecutive weeks. Winnipeg dispatched the B.C. Lions 43-22 at B.C. Place Stadium on July 9 before downing the Calgary Stampeders 26-19 at IG Field on Friday night. Winnipeg starter Zach Collaros, the CFL's outstanding player last year, is off to a great start.

When quarterback Zach Collaros was leading Steubenville High to consecutive Division III state titles in 2005-06, he never once went thirsty. Coincidentally, one of the Big Red’s water boys was Najee Murray , now an Alouettes defensive back.

Alouettes' Najee Murray, left, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Zach Collaros, right, both attended Steubenville High in Ohio. © Provided by The Gazette Alouettes' Najee Murray, left, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Zach Collaros, right, both attended Steubenville High in Ohio.

“He’s a great player who has honoured Steubenville well,” Murray said following Tuesday’s practice. “I always looked up to Collaros and I always idolized him. He was a guy who came from our city. He was the only one at that time who got an opportunity to play professional. He paved the way for a lot of us. I have the utmost respect for him.”

Unbeaten Blue Bombers win a 35-28 thriller over Stampeders

  Unbeaten Blue Bombers win a 35-28 thriller over Stampeders CALGARY — Zach Collaros kept his composure in a back-and-forth game to keep his Winnipeg Blue Bombers undefeated. Although Winnipeg trailed at four different times during Saturday's CFL game, the star quarterback found a way to lead the Blue Bombers (8-0) to a 35-28 victory over the Calgary Stampeders (4-2) at McMahon Stadium. “That’s Zach Collaros for you,” said receiver Nic Demski, who returned to action after missing the past four games with an ankle injury and caught a pair of touchdown passes from Collaros. “He was MOP (Most Outstanding Player) last year for a reason and he’s making a great case for himself this year as well.

Collaros, Winnipeg’s starter and last season’s CFL most outstanding player, has the utmost respect for Murray, now in his fourth season in Montreal. So, although it’s a hectic week for the Blue Bombers, faced with two road games in a five-day span, he’ll always make time to talk about Murray or a fellow athlete from his town.

“I remember when he was in high school, he was knocking dudes out,” Collaros told the Montreal Gazette by telephone on Tuesday. “When he got his opportunity up here … if he gets on the field, he’s not going to come off. He’s too smart and cares too much. That’s half the battle in my book.

“I respect the hell out of him; always have and have always watched. I knew his journey up here and kept tabs on him through different people. I take pride coming from a place where everybody knows everybody and knows everybody’s business. I’m so proud of him.”

CFL names Collaros, Schoen and Acklin performers of the month for July

  CFL names Collaros, Schoen and Acklin performers of the month for July Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros, Blue Bombers receiver Dalton Schoen and Ottawa receiver Jaelon Acklin have been named the CFL's top performers for July. Collaros threw for 1,061 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes with just two interceptions in four games as the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers improved to 8-0 with a perfect month. Collaros, last season's outstanding player, leads the league in passing yards (1,948), is second in touchdown passes (15) and ranks third in completion percentage (70.2 per cent). Schoen had five of his league-leading six touchdown receptions in July.

Steubenville, Ohio, a town of less than 20,000 nestled close to the Pennsylvania border, was once known for its thriving steel industry, since hit hard by the economic downturn. The only escape from working in what plants remain is to play football — which Collaros did impeccably. He went undefeated (30-0) as the school’s starter. And that was why Murray, at 28 five years younger, wanted to be around the team and later play for it.

“Friday nights, there was nothing like those games,” Murray remembered. “Just to be around that tradition and camaraderie with the guys. It was special, an honour to give water to those players. I looked up to them. I thought they were superstars, in my eyes, during that time.”

Murray and Collaros will renew their friendly rivalry this Thursday night, when the teams collide at Molson Stadium, and undoubtedly will trade Steubenville stories. The Blue Bombers’ and Als’ organizations couldn’t be more polarized. Winnipeg, undefeated (8-0) this season, is the two-time defending Grey Cup champions while the Als (2-5) are potentially facing an uphill battle simply to salvage their season, realizing they must play at Winnipeg next Thursday.

CFL names Collaros, Schoen and Acklin performers of the month for July

  CFL names Collaros, Schoen and Acklin performers of the month for July Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros, Blue Bombers receiver Dalton Schoen and Ottawa receiver Jaelon Acklin have been named the CFL's top performers for July. Collaros threw for 1,061 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes with just two interceptions in four games as the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers improved to 8-0 with a perfect month. Collaros, last season's outstanding player, leads the league in passing yards (1,948), is second in touchdown passes (15) and ranks third in completion percentage (70.2 per cent). Schoen had five of his league-leading six touchdown receptions in July.

Collaros, named one of the league’s top performers of the week on Tuesday, passed for 270 yards and four touchdowns last Saturday, against Calgary. He leads the CFL in passing yards (1,994) while throwing 15 touchdowns, one behind B.C.’s Nathan Rourke.

“Zach was a very humble guy but, one thing I’ll say, he’s competitive and a winner,” Murray said. “That’s one thing we all understand back at home. He didn’t lose a game. He’s one of the best competitors I’ve known in my life. We’re playing them this week, so I don’t want to give him too much credit. He was a great player and still is.

“It’s a blessing and I’m excited. To me, it’s an honour to go up against someone I looked up to and idolized that’s still doing good. It’s an honour to compete against him.”

Collaros’s class was epitomized during a game between the teams last season, shortly following the death of Murray’s father-in-law, who served as the team doctor for all the high school varsity squads. The Bombers had just scored a touchdown but, rather than rejoice, Collaros approached Murray, offering his condolences.

The Alouettes had a great game against the Blue Bombers — for 15 minutes

  The Alouettes had a great game against the Blue Bombers — for 15 minutes The eternal optimist will suggest the Alouettes were able to play against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — the best team in the CFL — at home for 41 minutes on Thursday night. But the realist will look at the final score — 35-20 for the undefeated (9-0), two-time defending Grey Cup champions — and admit the Als simply aren’t good enough. The Bombers know how to win, while the Als continue searching for answers. Montreal has struggled in the third quarter this season, but outscored Winnipeg 11-7 during that 15-minute sequence. That meant the teams were tied 14-14 heading into the pivotal final frame, when the Als imploded, finding yet another way to lose while being outscored, 21-6.

“It was a sad day,” Collaros remembered. “It was the least I could do at a moment like that.”

While the odds appear stacked against the Als this week, they’ve been in virtually every game .

“We’re not the team that can be easily beat,” Murray said. “I feel he (Collaros) has got to show us how he showed every team, week in and out. We’re coming in hungry. They have to beat us. That’s our mentality.”

Meanwhile, return specialist Warren Newman comes off the practice roster to replace the injured Chandler Worthy . Only 5-foot-6 and 175 pounds, this marks Newman’s second appearance this season in a Montreal uniform after dressing at Toronto.

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