First Posted: 1/15/2009
Led Littlefield to 1965 championship
Matt Elofson, Staff writer
LUMBERTON - Sam Lockerick Collins, an outstanding football player at Lumberton High who later coached Littlefield High School to an Eastern championship, died Friday after a battle with cancer.
Collins was 66. He died at his longtime home at 401 W. 36th St.
The funeral will be 11 a.m. Monday at the Floyd Memorial Chapel in Lumberton, the Rev. Joe Bounds officiating. Burial will follow at the New Hollywood Cemetery.
Collins compiled at 169-112-2 record during 28 seasons at Littlefield High, but the magical season was his third year at the school, in 1965 - and it was unexpected. In 1964, the Hornets, ravaged by injuries, had begun the season 0-7-1 before winning the final two games. That began as 14-game win streak that ended with a 7-0 win over Swansboro in 1965 to capture the Region 2, Class A championship. At the time, there was no state championship game.
In September, players and coaches from that team held a reunion - partly because of Collins' illness. All 23 players from that team attended the event.
“We had talent at all the positions, but that was a real team effort,” Collins said during the event. “They were all good kids and it was probably the best team I ever had.”
Collins had a 10-0 team in 1980 that lost in the second round of the playoffs. His teams' combined record from 1979 to 1981 was 29-6. He was once named the state's top coach at his classification by the sportswriters.
Knocky Thorndyke was an assistant coach for Collins for 24 years at the high school. When Thorndyke became head coach at Lumberton High School, he talked Collins out of retirement to join him for one season on the sidelines.
“It's a great loss for me,” said Thorndyke. “He was a good friend and a mentor.”
Thorndyke said that Collins was “ahead of his time” as a coach, and spent a lot of time studying the other team's tendencies on film - a common practice today.
“He was one of those guys that the athletes absolutely loved and also had a well-disciplined football team on the field,” Thorndyke said. “I certainly think we won football games because we had him.”
Thorndyke said Collins wasn't above stealing plays from the opponent. He said often Collins would put into the Hornets' playbook plays that other coaches had used successfully against his team.
“He was one of those guys that whatever he got into, he worked real hard at,” Thorndyke said. “The Littlefield community can certainly be proud he was their coach for all those years.”
Danny Collins coached at Red Springs High for 20 years and was often on the opposite sidelines.
“Going to Littlefield was always a tough game,” said Collins, who was not related to Sam Collins. “He didn't always have the greatest talent, but with what he had, he was tough.
“He was - if not the best - one of the best football coaches in Robeson County history.”
Donnie Douglas, now the editor of The Robesonian, was the sports editor of the newspaper when he first met Collins.
“I remember having heard of the Coach Collins, who was already a legend in my mind,” Douglas said. “I remember the first time I met him, I felt like I was going to meet Bear Bryant. I was expecting an old man, but he was still a young fellow. Not big, soft-spoken.
“He could not have been any more kind or generous with his time. By the mid-1980s, his teams were no longer as competitive as they had been, for a lot of reasons that weren't his fault. But I will tell you this. No one had players who played any harder than he did.
“He was a wonderful gentleman, win or lose. I really enjoyed our relationship.”
Collins taught in Robeson County for 40 years. In addition to coaching football at Littlefield High, he also coached girls basketball.
He was a driver's education teacher and he worked for the H&R lock for 27 years.
“Half the people of Robeson County were probably taught how to drive by Sam,” Danny Collins said.
He was preceded in death by his parents, James Clarence Collins and Vernie Mae Willis Collins.
Surviving are his wife, Linda P. Collins of the home; a brother, Douglas Collins of Durham; two sisters, Hilda Barton and Betty Finley and her husband, Bill, all of West Palm Beach, Fla.; three sons, Samuel Phillip Collins and his wife, Susan, of Morehead City, Christopher Brennen Collins of Cary, and Brian Kevin Collins and his wife, Kelli, of Zebulon; a daughter, Gina Brooke Bullard and her husband, William, of Apex; and three grandchildren, Sarah Rebecca Collins, Sydni Leigh Collins and William Collins Bullard.
The family will receive friends from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Floyd Mortuary & Crematory Inc. in Lumberton. Memorials may be made to First Baptist Church, P.O. Box 938, Lumberton, N.C., 28359 or to Hospice of Robeson at 2002 N. Cedar St., Lumberton, N.C., 28358.