In-state phenom T.J. Bollers already has major Division I offers — and he's just 15 years old

Matthew Bain
The Des Moines Register

TIFFIN, Ia. — It’s fun to watch T.J. Bollers play wide receiver.

He starred there Saturday, when Clear Creek Amana played in the Iowa Elite Playmaker 7-on-7 football tournament on the Tiffin soccer fields. He ran crisp routes. He showed great hands. His tree-trunk legs had the quick twitch of a running back. He rose up for catches facing triple teams on several occasions.

The thing is, it's not his primary position.

Bollers, who just wrapped up his freshman year at CCA, is being recruited by Power Five programs as a defensive end.

He’s about 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds right now — and he’s still growing. Combine that size with four-sport athleticism (he also plays baseball, basketball and track), and it makes sense that Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota and Nebraska have already made their offers.

At 15, Bollers is also fielding interest from Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Mississippi State, Stanford, Army, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt.

And he's just getting started.

Clear Creek Amana 2021 defensive end T.J. Bollers takes off his helmet during an Iowa prospect camp on June 3, 2018.

“It’s just been really eye-opening — meeting new coaches," Bollers said. "It’s just been really exciting. Hard work is paying off, but I’m still not done. I’ve still got so much more time and I can’t take stuff for granted. I have to keep working at my game, keep pushing my teammates and my teammates will keep pushing me."

His athletic abilities are likely to improve with maturity. If his body continues to fill out like it has in one year of high school (he weighed 205 pounds this fall), Bollers will be a four-star 2021 recruit and could be one of the Midwest’s best defensive prospects in a couple of years.

"His upper body is still obviously not developed," said JC Moreau, Bollers’ trainer and the owner of Strength U, in North Liberty. "His lower body is gifted — his legs, you can’t coach that. And they’ll get bigger and stronger with everything else. But as his upper body fills out and he gets even an inch taller, he’ll be scary-looking. I imagine his junior year, when he gets on the field, he’ll be that guy where you don’t have to know a thing about football and you’ll be, like, 'Is it that guy?'

"He’s going to be that kid."

Clear Creek Amana's T.J. Bollers runs plays during practice on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.

Bollers recorded 15.5 solo tackles and three solo sacks for CCA during his freshman season. He got Big Ten interest and visited Iowa, Iowa State and Indiana.

Offers didn’t start rolling in until winter, once his film — specifically the last few games of his film — started circulating.

The Cyclones offered in January. Iowa was next in May. Minnesota and Nebraska followed soon after. His Huskers' offer came last week, as he was finishing his geometry final.

He made a strong impression at Iowa's big man camp on Sunday. Moreau said he was "unblockable," making a particularly good move against Iowa four-star recruit Ezra Miller. Bollers will also attend camps at Iowa State and Notre Dame this month.

"It’s surreal in many ways. This is way past what we ever thought," said Bollers’ dad, Trevor Bollers, who was a running back at Iowa from 1996-98. "When we started out, it’s, like, 'Oh, OK, well, you’re in fifth grade and you look pretty good — pretty strong. I wonder if you’re going to grow.' Then you get to junior high — 'You’re looking pretty good; I wonder if you’re going to grow.' And then, all of a sudden, you get to freshman year and, me, being Dad and all, I was, like, 'Don’t worry about playing this year; just learn.'

"I’m telling you: It’s way bigger than I ever thought it was going to be. Especially this early, with schools giving him the love he’s been getting. We’re really humbled."

Bollers said he expects to focus on tight end and defensive end as a sophomore, and he hopes to get up to about 235-240 pounds. It’s reasonable to believe he will improve drastically as a defensive end.

After all, this year marked his first time ever playing the position.

Growing up, Bollers always played running back. In middle school games, he’d dominate his way to four or five touchdowns by halftime and then sit the second half while the second-stringers got their snaps.

At first this season, Bollers looked quite raw at defensive end.

He would often get stood up by the offensive tackle and watch the play pass him by. He was an athlete without position-specific skills.

Soon, though, his technique started to catch up.

Clear Creek Amana's T.J. Bollers runs down field during practice on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.

"He didn't really get a feel for the position, probably, until the eighth or the ninth games," Moreau said. "His floor is high because he’s already got so many physical tangibles that you want — he comes out of his stance really fast and he’s athletic enough to do anything. Now, I would imagine he’ll make quick improvements — in leaps and bounds at times — as his technique improves."

That's what makes Bollers so exciting as a recruit: He’s already a high-level prospect, and he has barely tapped into his potential.

Bollers and Bettendorf defensive tackle Griffin Liddle are the only 2021 prospects in Iowa who hold Division I offers; Liddle has been offered by Iowa State and Nebraska, too. The two train together at Moreau's Strength U.

So what’s next in Bollers' development?

"I want to work more on block recognition, aggressiveness and a lot of pass-rush moves," Bollers said. "Using my hips more, using extension, getting hands off me quicker so I can get around."

His dad sees room to grow in Bollers' mental game.

"Understanding the situation," Trevor said. "Raising that football IQ is the biggest thing, and it’s why we do these things. That’s why we’re going to get him to camp at Iowa, Iowa State, Notre Dame. That’s why we’re going to get him to those places — so we can work on raising that football IQ.

"(We’re) surrounding him with opportunities to compete at levels that are really high — to be around that atmosphere. That’s what’s going to keep him grounded, because he’s going to see kids that he’s never seen before compete with him.

"That’s always been our thing: We will hunt competition like we are fiends, baby."

Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.