From the time he could throw a ball, Kollin Neils ate a steady diet of football and basketball.
“My mom has stories since I was little: I was always playing with a ball around the house, throwing it around, and playing basketball and football, always just having a ball in my hand and making sure I was playing with my friends,” said Neils, who’s never put the ball down.
The Plymouth senior has remained a standout among standouts on the Panthers’ perennially powerful football team, carving a niche for himself as arguably the team’s best-ever quarterback after finishing this year with 5,436 career passing yards — a program best, according to coach Dan Knaus.
“I just think the kid’s a natural athlete. …” Knaus said. “Whatever sport he plays, he’s just a natural athlete.”
In game after game this season, Neils’ presence on the field was clearly felt, from the amount of passing plays the team called — more than in past years — to the way defenses lined up against the Panthers.
“He was like another coach on the field for us,” Knaus said. “I mean, he knew the offense as well as most of the coordinators did, and it was easy for him to get us in and out of good plays real fast.
“The nice thing that we were able to do was we could throw it on any down,” Knaus added, noting opposing teams regularly backed up their safeties to try and ward off Neils’ passing attack. “It didn’t matter — down-and-distance, first down, second down — we could throw it because we knew he was going to get us a good play out of it and get us in good down-and-distance on the next play.”
Neils, who’s also become a standout on the Panthers’ basketball team, made tangible improvements every season. As a sophomore, he completed nearly 59 percent of his passes. A year later, he was connecting with his receivers nearly 64 percent of the time. And this year, he did so more than 68 percent of the time.
This was his best season in every category. He finished with 2,266 yards — 188.83 per game — and 24 touchdowns on 164-of-240 passing. He also turned into one of his team’s most lethal on-the-ground players, rushing for 520 yards and eight TDs.
The team’s season ended in the third round of the Division 3 playoffs, where eventual state runner-up Greendale handed the Panthers just their second loss of the season.
“It was pretty successful,” Neils said recently, reflecting on his time at Plymouth — he’s unsure yet what he’ll do next year, though he’s considering playing a sport at college. “I mean, I wish we could have changed some things — making it further in the playoffs obviously, winning State would have been a great accomplishment. But it’s nothing to look down upon. I had a pretty successful career and I couldn’t have done it without the players I was around and the coaches.”
“We knew about him in eighth grade,” Knaus said, noting coaches for Plymouth’s middle school team alerted him early on about the rising star’s potential future talent. “… He’s lived up to everything we expected from him.”