How a French nuclear engineer’s year at Penn State hooked him on college football
A French nuclear engineer living in Idaho, Blaise Collin isn’t your typical college football blogger
It wasn’t as if Blaise Collin was unfamiliar with football.
As a 9-year-old, he had visited his aunt in Boston and then returned years later as a young man when he attended a Patriots-Steelers game during the Parcells-Cowher era. He had seen it occasionally on cable television in his native France.
And Collin was interested in all sports, not just his first love of soccer, so his mind was open to any athletic competition:
“Anything where two teams compete and there’s a winner and loser at the end, I can watch anything. You want to know who’s going to win.”
But it wasn’t until 2003 when he came to do post-doctoral work in the Physics department at Penn State that he fell in love. It was that year living in State College and attending games at Beaver Stadium, even watching perhaps the worst team in the school’s modern era, that hooked him on college football and Penn State. They both got in his blood.
And that’s how a 41-year-old French nuclear engineer and current resident of Idaho came to visit the Penn State Blue-White Game. He just can’t get enough football.
“It is really a way for me to stay in touch with Penn State,” he said of his return and his hobby. “Because it’s the big thing at Penn State and that’s where I lived.”
During his year at PSU, Collin mostly hung out with European researchers also in the Physics department but he mixed with the locals, too, at all the usual hangouts – the Corner Room at the Allen Street Grill, the Rathskeller, Cafe 210.
“And I had such a good time. Everybody was older and I was 27 at that time. I was not so fascinated with football back then.”
Collin, in fact, was a credentialed member of the media at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, working for a website called FootballAmericain.com. As you would guess, it’s a French-speaking website about American football, both that played in the U.S. and in France:
“This now is a way for me to stay in contact with the university.”
Yes, they do play semi-pro football in France. In fact, Penn State grad Jake Kiley was recently a member of a French team.
Collin himself played for years on a flag-football team in France after that year living in State College. But that didn’t completely sate his thirst:
“Because I like to write, I asked these guys [FootballAmericain.com] if I could help them out. It’s all voluntary. We even pay for our own trips. If you decide you want to go to a game, it’s all out of your own pocket.”
Collin originally wrote for another website that explained more about the basics of football, then began writing freelance stories for FootballAmericain.com when he was still living in Paris.
Blaise Collin with Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice at a recent San Francisco 49ers game.Blaise Collin
He actually took a 5-week vacation in the United States as early as the autumn of 2008 specifically to visit different college football venues and write about them. The first game he ever covered was eventual national title game participant Oklahoma and Sam Bradford routing host Washington 55-14 on Sept. 13, 2008, in Seattle.
“We have a lot of vacation in France,” said Collin. “I traveled the West Coast that month.”
He also visited Oregon State, California, Oregon. At the end of that season, he covered Oregon vs. Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl.
He was so taken with America, particularly the West, that he yearned to move here and finally did in 2010.
“I had loved my experience at Penn State and I loved living in the U.S.”
Collin took a job at the Idaho National Laboratory, a sprawling federal nuclear testing and research facility run by the Department of Energy since 1949. Collin’s specific studies seek to optimize the performance and safety of nuclear fuels by testing them under varying conditions.
Though, not in figurative sense, Collin was quite literally a Nancy boy. He played many sports as a kid growing up in the town of Nancy, about 175 miles east of Paris, not far from the German border. In addition to soccer, he loved basketball and played it quite a bit even before the Dream Team took neighboring Spain by storm during the 1992 Olympics. And he followed the NBA before that landmark event as well.
His earliest recollection of American football was as a young boy hearing about a game called The Rose Bowl. His first memory of watching a game was of a Cowboys-Redskins NFL game he saw on TV as a teenager. He was intrigued:
“I didn’t really understand what was going on. I didn’t know the rules. But it was sports. It was fun to watch something different.”
Apparently, there is a hard core of about 20,000 football fans in France and the FootballAmericain.com site is evidence. The Elite division is the country’s major league of eight teams. The Golden Helmet league is the equivalent of baseball’s AAA. Then, there are other smaller divisions, some who play flag football, with team names like the Killer Bees, the Kangourous, the Chevaliers, Iron Mask and La Horde.
For now, Collin will stick with the Nittany Lions and college football. Though he is credentialed to cover the NFL Draft starting tomorrow in Philadelphia, the college game is clearly his favorite form of the sport:
“The enthusiasm of the students behind their sports teams is just something that’s incredible. I think that’s the main reason I’ve always loved college football more than the NFL. The tradition and everything that goes on around college football is just so incredible. And so much fun to watch and experience.”
DAVID JONES: email@example.com