Geri Collins, wife of Duke linebackers coach, loses battle with cancer
The joy surrounding Duke’s preparation for its first bowl game in 18 years was shattered early Tuesday morning.
Geri Collins, the wife of Duke linebackers coach Jim Collins, died at 6:40 a.m. at Duke Hospital after a two-year battle with cancer.
Geri Collins was 60 years old.
“It’s a great loss to their family,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “What a warrior, a fun person and battler.”
Over the past five seasons, Duke’s players grew to know Geri Collins well. Cutcliffe referred to her as the official family photographer of Duke football.
“I don’t think there’s a player that’s played at Duke since I’ve been here that hasn’t had his picture taken by Geri,” Cutcliffe said
Duke junior cornerback Ross Cockrell said Geri Collins was omnipresent at the team’s Yoh Football Center, where the coaches’ offices are located as well as the team’s weight-training facilities.
Even as she was going through cancer treatments, Geri Collins rarely slowed down.
“She was at the Yoh, she was working out even with all she was going through,” Cockrell said. “She was taking pictures. She was a person you could talk to. She would always give you great words of advice.”
Geri Collins routinely roamed the sidelines during home football games, taking photos that she shared with the players.
“She was a very special lady,” Duke defensive end Justin Foxx said. “We all loved her. She was always smiling and always there with us. Our hearts are kind of heavy, but we want to win this game for Coach Collins.”
Duke is preparing for the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, where the Blue Devils will face Cincinnati on Dec. 27 (6:30 p.m., ESPN). Cutcliffe said Jim Collins has been given time away from his coaching duties.
But Duke’s players have him on their minds.
“We’re going to rally around Coach Collins,” Foxx said.
The Blue Devils have plenty of experience in dealing with tragic situations this season.
In July, wide receivers Blair Holliday and Jamison Crowder were involved in a personal watercraft accident that left Holliday with a traumatic brain injury. Crowder, though not physically injured, went through a difficult time emotionally while Holliday battled for his life.
After four weeks in intensive care at UNC Hospitals, Holliday regained consciousness and improved enough to begin rehabilitation. Meanwhile, Crowder emerged as a starting wide receiver for Duke and eventually caught 70 passes this season.
“A lot of things have made me stronger,” Crowder said Tuesday. “I won’t say it’s changed my mindset, but it’s made me more grateful of things.”
In November, when Geri Collins’ health deteriorated and she no longer was able to attend Duke games, Crowder and running back Josh Snead visited her at Duke Hospital.
“She told us how happy it made her,” Crowder said. “She told us that it just made her day. I know for me and Snead, it just gave us inspiration to see what she was going through at the time and what Coach Collins was going through at the time. She never looked down or anything. She was always smiling.”
Geri Collins’ funeral will be held Saturday at Duke Chapel. The football team will attend before leaving for Charlotte, where they will practice on Sunday at Charlotte Latin High School.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Duke Cancer Institute for either Dr. Jeffrey Crawford’s Research or Lung Cancer Research at Duke Cancer Institute, office of development, DUMC 3828, Durham, 27710 or to The Hock Family Pavilion, Duke HomeCare & Hospice Office of Development, 4321 Medical Park Drive, Suite 101, Durham, 27704.
Cutcliffe has moved several players to new positions for the Belk Bowl. Some players will stay there for next season, Cutcliffe said.
Duke has moved redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Nick Sink to tight end, sophomore linebacker Britton Grier to defensive end, redshirt freshman Nick Hill from wide receiver to safety and freshman running back Shaq Powell to safety.
The moves of Powell and Hill are to help add depth in the secondary, where Duke has been ravaged with injuries as well as seeing two players leave the program this season.
The Blue Devils will be helped by the return to practice of junior Brandon Braxton, who missed the final four regular-season games with an ankle injury.