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ALL-AROUND ATHLETE: Bollinger, three-sport star, earns state's top athletic honor

Former NFL and Grand Forks Central quarterback Brooks Bollinger teaches young quarterbacks technique during his Bollinger quarterbacks and receivers school at UND in 2016. Bollinger will be inducted into the N.D. Sports Hall of Fame tomorrow, June 16, at the Jamestown Civic Center. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

Brooks Bollinger speaks with an unmistakable sense of pride when discussing current NFL quarterback Carson Wentz.

Both men, along with North Dakota State University quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg, went from playing high school football on the great plains of North Dakota to professionally quarterbacking the sport at the highest level.

But the former signal caller for the New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys explained he doesn't plan on giving Wentz any pointers on how to direct the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles anytime soon.

"I don't think he needs any advice from me," Bollinger joked. "He's pretty unbelievable as to the level he's playing at and what he's done.

"It makes us proud to be from North Dakota."

Bollinger made all of "us" proud, too. The former Grand Forks Central High School and University of Wisconsin star will receive the Cliff Cushman Award and be enshrined into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame tomorrow, June 16, at the Jamestown Civic Center.

Bollinger will be inducted along with Linton boys basketball coach Dan Carr, Mayville State baseball coach Scott Berry and Fargo track star Laura Roesler. The ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. with a social, auction and banquet.

Born in Bismarck in 1979, Bollinger was a natural athlete from the beginning. He lettered in football, basketball and track at Grand Forks Central, never missing a football game in his four-year career under center.

Bollinger passed for 40 touchdowns—he ran for 19 more—and was named North Dakota's 1997 Gatorade Player of the Year. Bollinger went on to a record-breaking college career for the Badgers, but what about being drafted twice as an infielder by Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000 and 2001?

He was, after all, the starting shortstop for the American Legion Grand Forks Royals in 1996 and 1997, guiding the team to back-to-back state runner-up finishes. The lad also helped Grand Forks Central win a Class A state championship in boys basketball as a point guard in 1996.

"The Dodgers spoke to (me) at the Rose Bowl," said Bollinger, a game in which he helped Wisconsin win 17-9 over Stanford by rushing in a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter as a redshirt freshman in 2000. "It's a long story, but it all worked out. I never really focused on the next step. I just focused on the experiences I was having at the time, whether that was football, baseball or basketball.

"So much of those decisions come from the fact of just being fortunate. It was kinda the luck of the draw and being in the right place at the right time."

Bollinger racked up the most wins by a quarterback in Wisconsin school history, guiding the Badgers to a record of 30-12 and also setting the program's quarterback career rushing record with 1,767 yards. Bollinger's 5,627 passing yards ranks second in Badgers' history, as he tossed 38 career touchdowns and was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017.

Bollinger's collegiate career made a solid case to NFL general managers. He'd be drafted by the Jets in the sixth-round of the 2003 NFL Draft with the 200th overall pick.

"It was awesome—kind of beyond my wildest dreams to have the opportunity to learn the game at that level from the people I got to learn it from," Bollinger said. "It's obviously a bigger stage, and more people are watching, but you feel very fortunate to just be able to continue the experience of playing the game."

Bollinger spent three seasons with the Jets, two more with the Vikings and served as a backup to Tony Romo and Brad Johnson with the Cowboys in 2008. Bollinger started 10 games in his NFL career, tossing nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Before retiring from professional football in 2011, Bollinger was signed by the United Football League's Florida Tuskers in 2009. He led the Tuskers to the league's championship game the same season and was named the UFL's MVP.

The former pro said there'll be plenty of people to thank during tomorrow night's ceremony.

"Anytime you get honored like this it's really an opportunity to celebrate, look back and be thankful for all the people that had a part and shared in my experiences as an athlete," Bollinger said.

Bollinger is currently the head football coach at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn. He is also Vice President and Private Wealth Advisor at North Rock Partners in Minneapolis, and resides in Eagan, Minn., with his wife, Natalie, and their five children: Miles (12), Beau (10), Livi (7), Isla (4) and Isaac (4 months).

"I'm very proud to be from North Dakota, and I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to grow up there and to be able to be honored in that hall of fame with the people who were my heroes growing up," Bollinger said. "It means a lot to me to be sharing that honor with them."

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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