Happy QB's Personal Outlet? Writing Country Songs




NASHVILLE, Tenn. --** Kerry Collins leans forward and pops a compact disc into the player. The Tennessee Titans' quarterback listens intently to the country demo from someone who is hoping Collins will be a connection to music stardom.

That's right, the face of Nashville's NFL franchise is also becoming a player off the field in Music City -- someone would-be singers and writers hope can get them an industry hookup.

The hopefuls all seem to have heard: The quarterback turned songwriter is serious about music.

"It's something I didn't foresee happening," said Collins, who has found CDs stashed in his mailbox and had people pass them to him after games.

"I came to Nashville, I never even thought about writing songs and never even thought that that would be something I'd ever have the opportunity to do," he said. "I started meeting people and had the opportunity to write with some great people, and it just kind of took off from there."

Though Collins majored in labor and industrial education at Penn State, he has something crucial for any aspiring songwriter: life experience.

He has seen the highs and lows football stardom offers. A top high school recruit, an All-American in college and a new NFL franchise's first ever draft pick, he's also been released by that team, struggled with alcoholism, gone from Super Bowl starter to backup and back again to a starting role.

The Titans became his fifth team in 2006, but he found himself backing up Vince Young until taking over the offense late in the 2008 season opener. He led Tennessee to an NFL-best 13-3 record, and the Titans rewarded him with a two-year, $15 million deal on the first day of free agency.

"I get to finish my career out as a Titan," said Collins, who will turn 37 days before this year's regular-season finale. "I have a chance to be on a good football team at this stage in my career so it just couldn't work out any better."

Collins is enjoying the confidence that comes from being given the starting job. The move has strengthened his relationship with the teammates who watched him achieve an 80.2 passer rating -- the third best of his career. He was intercepted only seven times, sacked just eight and moved into 14th all-time in yards passing.

Happily married with a young daughter, Collins likes to hunt back home in North Carolina and has targeted turkey and deer around Tennessee.

He has also been jotting down thoughts and ideas in a notebook for years and needed another outlet outside of football.

Collins got his first crack at songwriting during the 2007 offseason with a couple friends in the music business. His contribution comes through words, not notes.

"It's something completely different from football, and it taps into a creative side I think I always knew I had but never had an outlet for," he said.

In a town filled with football fans who happen to be songwriters, finding co-writers isn't hard. A charity event last year led him to Ed Hill, whose list of hits includes co-writing Tracy Lawrence's "Find Out Who Your Friends Are." Hill couldn't believe Collins called him back, and they co-wrote a song last October days before a big win over Indianapolis.

The only reason Collins had time to write during the season? It was a Monday night game, giving him an extra day in his schedule that week.

Hill was impressed when he saw Collins' notebook with its pages curled from use and full of ideas the quarterback had jotted down on the road or in locker rooms.

"He's got a real passion for it," Hill said. "He doesn't have a lot of experience doing it. Most people don't that play football for all their life. He definitely has ability for it. He leans on me and Billy sometimes because we do it every day for 25 years."

That's Billy Lawson, whose songs include Trace Adkins' "I Left Something Turned on at Home." Lawson has co-written five or six songs with Collins and calls the quarterback a good thinker.

"He knows what he wants to say. When you throw something out, he can tell you if he likes it," Lawson said.

Collins is also learning to play the guitar, though a recent karaoke fundraiser provided a reminder that his skills are with a football or pen, not a microphone.

He hasn't had a song recorded yet, though George Strait did put a hold on that song Collins wrote with Hill last October titled "Ain't Hard to be Happy." The song didn't make the final cut in what Collins' fellow writers call an example of how tough Music City can be.

For the quarterback, songwriting has become the perfect intersection of his professional and personal lives, and something that would not likely have happened in any other NFL town.

"I think I'm one of those people that's going to be better in the late 30s and 40s than in my early 20s, the experience and knowing myself better," Collins said. "And I've got a great family, great situation in my professional life. I've found something outside of that I really enjoy too.

"That's put me in a really good place."

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