- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Oregon recruited Austin Collinsworth as a safety. Notre Dame recruited him as a wide receiver. So, of course, the Irish sophomore is now a safety making his college mark on special teams.
"A lot of schools kind of said, 'We'll play you wherever you wanna play,' which you know how true that is," Collinsworth said with a laugh. "Someone told me I was gonna play running back, and I'm like, 'OK, where am I really gonna play?'
"So I kind of thought wherever I go, they're gonna put me in the best position to make plays, and it's probably gonna be in the same position everywhere."
Collinsworth returned kicks and punts in high school but never played on the kick coverage team before college, where he quietly made his mark last season.
He lobbied special-teams coach Mike Elston to put him in as a returner last year, something that paid off in the Sun Bowl against Miami. The then-freshman returned the lone kickoff that came his way 34 yards.
This past Saturday at Wake Forest, he returned a first-quarter kick 41 yards. He has averaged 20.4 yards on his seven kick returns this season, and he might soon be vying to return punts, too.
"Hopefully," Collinsworth said. "I'll talk to Coach Elston about it. I probably haven't talked to him about it as much as I should, but hopefully they'll give me a chance."
Collinsworth, who delivered a big hit on Wake Forest's Lovell Jackson during a third-quarter kick return, did not envision his glory coming on special teams, though he will be a candidate to start in the secondary next season.
Still, the workload that has come with an early-career position-switch, in addition to balancing safety and special teams duties, forces him to spend a lot of time in the film room.
"It's important," Collinsworth said. "I gotta watch a lot of defensive film for whenever my dime reps are, but you definitely gotta know your special teams. You gotta know what to expect, because there's a lot of things and tricks that if they get it, it's gonna be a big play, and it's really gonna hurt us."
Head coach Brian Kelly credits Collinsworth's special teams success to his attitude and desire to make the most of whatever opportunity he gets on the field.
"I think the special teams is a want-to," Kelly said. "He's got a want-to. He loves to play and he plays with that passion, and so I think he sees himself, takes great pride in his opportunities because he doesn't get a ton of reps as a front-line player on defense, so he really uses and maximizes his time on the field through special teams."