Photo by Robert Smith

Tay Collum grew up going to Southern Miss football games at M.M. Roberts Stadium, known to Golden Eagle fans as “The Rock.”

         Her parents, Jen Collum and Steve Collum, would make the one and a half drive from Brandon to Hattiesburg on a regular basis to cheer on the Golden Eagles.

         Now, they have an even better reason to go to the Hub City: to watch Tay play soccer.

         Tay, Mississippi Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year in 2018 from Northwest Rankin High, transferred from Alabama-Birmingham to Southern Miss in January and will be wearing the Black and Gold this fall for the Eagles.

         “I’ve been around Southern Miss since I was a kid and my family always thought I would end up there,” Tay said. “As soon as I went into the transfer portal, my previous high school and club coaches began helping me get in touch with (Southern Miss) Coach Mo (Mohammed El-Zare) and even set up practices so that he could watch me play. While I received a few offers from other schools, I knew that Southern Miss was where I was supposed to be. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Photo by Robert Smith

         Collum was recruited while she was at Northwest Rankin by UAB coach Harold Warren, but he left before Collum arrived in Birmingham. Collum played her freshman year and the fall of her sophomore year under Erica Demers, Warren’s replacement, before deciding to enter the transfer portal and start a new chapter. 

         “I knew about Tay when she was at Northwest Rankin,” El-Zare said. “She (verbally) committed to UAB when she was a sophomore at Northwest Rankin. We respected that and didn’t pursue. We want to make sure we know the person as well as their ability to play soccer and so we don’t want any of our players to commit early.

         “But once she entered the transfer portal, she expressed interest in coming to Southern Miss.”

         Collum got to play one game this spring – against Grambling at Belhaven in Jackson — before the coronavirus stopped the season.

         “Tay came off the bench and played a solid game,” El-Zare said. “She got to play in front of her family and friends. I know they are excited to have her at Southern Miss because they had a tradition of coming down to football games.

         “I believe Tay will be a big help to us this fall. She’s versatile. Tay can play several different positions. She has an open mind to playing various positions and is very coachable. Tay has the courage and willingness to learn. She’s a huge asset for sure.”

Photo by Robert Smith

         Collum is the only Mississippian on the team, which will have seven of 11 starters back this fall. One of the players El-Zare lost this past year was Miah Zua Zua, who turned pro and is playing in Mexico. 

         Collum is in Hattiesburg now for the volunteer workouts. El-Zare has players all across the world in Europe, Africa and South America as well as across the United States. He hopes they all can be in Hattiesburg in early August when all the players are scheduled to report.

         “For the very short time I was at Southern Miss this semester, I was absolutely loving it,” Collum said. “I got involved with FCA and it’s been an awesome experience. All of the girls on the team have been so welcoming and I immediately felt like a part of the family. Coach Mo is great and has really given me a chance to move around to different positions, and I am so thankful for that.

         “Southern Miss has been the perfect fit for me and I am so sad that we had to leave and stop practicing. When school was going on, I stayed in Hattiesburg just to stay focused and the soccer complex nearby stayed open, which was very helpful. Every day, our strength coach sends us our workouts for the day, whether it’s running or lifting, and I’ll do what he sends along with getting touches on the ball. Since school ended and select soccer has cleared to start practicing again, I have been training with my boys at the Mississippi Rush to get quality touches on the ball and some extra conditioning in. It’s definitely been a challenge for me because this is the second semester in a row that I have not played games and it is the longest I have ever gone without playing.”

         Collum grew up playing soccer in Rankin County. She started playing high school soccer at Northwest Rankin in the seventh grade. Collum led her team to the Class 6A state championship as a junior, the first time Northwest Rankin had won a girls soccer state title.

          “Tay was such a massive part of our Championship season,” said Dean Joseph, Collum’s head coach at Northwest Rankin. “As a center back she scored massive goals that won us big games and made countless tackles when she was the last player to goal. She covered so much ground and had such an incredible understanding of the game that we were able to move some really key players into more attacking roles because we knew she could bail us out if needed.”

         “The things that stick out to me the most were her attitude and desire to be the best. That’s why I had so much confidence in her. I have not witnessed a player in a long time that has this much desire and drive to be the best. It is so awesome and refreshing to see. I loved these things the most about her. She was the first player on the field every day, she came in and did her pre stretches. I never had to ask her to do these things. She was so professional in everything she did. In training I never had to ask her to give more effort. She gave more effort than was required in every session. She trained with such intensity and intention that it rubbed off on other players around her. When players were not putting in the right effort she would have a go at the players and demand them to raise the level. She was not going to let anyone deprive her of her dream of winning the state cup.

Photo by Robert Smith

         “She is an absolute legend at Northwest Rankin. She is a player that I loved coaching. I respect this kid so much because she never apologized to anybody for trying to be the best player in the state. She set her own standard and everybody had to follow or she was going to leave you behind.”
         Collum started playing select soccer for Mississippi Fire, now Mississippi Rush, when she was eight years old. She competed in regional and national competitions and attended many showcases and tournaments that gave her exposure to colleges. 

         “We at Mississippi Rush are so excited to see how Tay has developed into the player she has become,” Mississippi Rush technical director Kenny White said. “We re so proud of her and wish her all the best in her soccer endeavors. We look forward to watching her grow at the next level.” 

         “I’ve been preparing for college my whole life,” Collum said. “I trained with the boys for a year before going into college to help me adjust to the speed of play. I loved how the pace of the game was higher and that it was more physical and competitive in practice. In my first college game, I was definitely nervous, but after a few minutes, I was able to relax and play the way I know how. The only difficulty I feel that I had was trying to start from scratch, learning how to play outside back, a position I had never played before.”