'Collins Strong' mantra looms over Tomball HS team that's making deep playoff run

Carson Collins, along with his grandfather, two brothers, and cousin, were found dead amid the search for Gonzalo Lopez.

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Thursday, November 24, 2022
Tomball HS team holding close a teammate killed by escaped inmate
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Carson Collins' absence in the midst of Tomball High School's playoff run looms large several months after the violent end to his life.

TOMBALL, Texas (KTRK) -- Since Tomball is still playing in the high school football postseason, the Cougars are still practicing. So it's more football than family this Thanksgiving.

"Nobody else gets to do it other than a handful of other teams," Cougars team member Carson Monrad said. "I'm glad it's us."

Coach Dave Handal's Cougars are one of only 16 teams left in the UIL Class 6A Division II state playoffs. Tomball is the only squad still standing from District 15-6A.

"Great teams, great coaches," Handal said of what he calls the toughest district in the state. "So to be the sole representative still playing, it's pretty special."

But this 2022 playoff run is special for another reason. In fact, it's the theme of this season.

"We love Carson so much," Monrad, a Cougars senior captain, said of Carson Collins. "He plays with us every day, practices with us every day."

Carson Collins, a junior in the Tomball football program, was one of five Collins family members killed by an escaped inmate in June.

The Cougars adopted the "Collins Strong" mantra to honor the family. It's visible on bracelets, T-shirts, helmet stickers, and at a memorial in the shadows of the team's stadium.

"Tomorrow's not guaranteed," Coach Handal admitted. "We're going to soak up every minute of today and appreciate everything about today we get to do. It's more than football. Everything we do is for the Collins family."

During an emotional pregame ceremony earlier this season, junior Aidan Burnham presented Carson's mother and father their late son's No. 5 jersey. Aidan, a pallbearer at Carson's funeral, now wears No. 5 during games.

"Just giving his parents the opportunity to see someone wearing No. 5 that could represent his qualities - it's great for them," Burnham explained. "And it's an honor for me."

So for Tomball, a team practicing and playing this holiday week, football is family, especially this Thanksgiving.

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