T.J. Bollers details what's transformed into an full-fledged elite recruitment. Dargan Southard, firstname.lastname@example.org
TIFFIN, Ia. — The phone relentlessly chirped for a solid 30 minutes straight — so intensely that T.J. Bollers had to shut the ringer off. The East Coast wave got an hour advantage in the earlier time zone. Coaches across the country poured in soon after, once their window officially opened.
Sept. 1 is like Christmas morning for elite college football recruiters, who must wait until that day of a prospect’s junior year before they can initiate contact. When the calendar flipped into the ninth month, Bollers and his family were trekking back from Nashville, having just kickstarted a hectic fall with a Vanderbilt visit. The constant flow of texts, Twitter messages and more punctuated the 600-mile trek back to Tiffin.
“There were so many messages,” Bollers said with a laugh.
So it goes when living this coveted recruiting life. Clear Creek Amana’s 2021 standout is currently knee-deep in an unforgettable, but intense, process that’s brought suitors from all corners of America, literally. Earlier this fall, Bollers landed offers from places 3,000 miles apart — Washington and Florida — in the same week. Pile those on top of opportunities from almost every Midwest Power Five school.
RV excursions and campus visits have peppered the football season. A commitment is likely months, or even a year, away — understandable, given how thoroughly the Bollers crew has handled this life-altering decision. With overall intelligence matching the football prowess, there are countless aspects to consider.
Though chaotic at times, Bollers’ vintage smile and grounded approach haven’t wavered. That’s been imperative, considering this journey still has plenty of miles ahead.
“It’s been surreal,” said Trevor Bollers, T.J.’s father. “You don’t walk in the house and see letters from Stanford, Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt, Georgia and more sitting on the table and go, 'Oh, hey, it’s another day in paradise.' You go, 'Holy cow — wow.' You get that lump in your throat like, 'I didn’t realize it was going to be like this.'
“We thought, ‘Hey, we’ll work our butts off and do what we can to get him the best opportunities that he can get.’ We didn’t realize it was going to balloon into this.”
T.J. BOLLERS UPDATES THROUGH THE YEARS
- September 2017: Freshman T.J. Bollers is a rising prospect to watch in Iowa
- April 2018: Recruiting mailbag: Is Iowa close to offering 2021 standout T.J. Bollers?
- June 2018: T.J. Bollers already has major D-I offers — and he's just 15
- August 2018: Iowa Eight football: T.J. Bollers is what 'a lot of schools are looking for'
- September 2018: In-state phenom T.J. Bollers keeps improving
- April 2019: Could T.J. Bollers be this state's next national recruit?
T.J.’s offer list represents a cavalcade of established tradition, newfound football buzz and academic supremacy. Familiar suitors for many Iowa talents — Cyclones, Hawkeyes, Cornhuskers and Badgers — appear to be loose frontrunners for now. Barring any future changes, all four will have had Bollers and various family members on campus twice by the season’s end.
It’s by no coincidence, either, that Bollers’ visits will have lined up with those programs’ most raucous home games. The 4-star defensive end was in Ames for the Cy-Hawk matchup and will return Nov. 16 for Texas. He trekked to Camp Randall Stadium for Wisconsin’s Sept. 21 drubbing over Michigan and will head back when the Badgers host Iowa on Nov. 9. Bollers was also at Nebraska when "College GameDay" visited for the Ohio State showdown (Sept. 28). He soaked in a full-throttle Kinnick Stadium last Saturday as well.
Additional universities had and will have chances to showcase their best product. Bollers traveled to Kansas State for its Oct. 5 showdown against undefeated Baylor. This fall's tour began with a packed Vanderbilt Stadium hosting then-No. 3 Georgia.
Among the chief takeaways from these visits has been soaking in gameday atmospheres at their finest. Bollers has certainly maximized those opportunities.
“I like to look at how the crowd is, the energy in the stadium,” Bollers said. “You don’t just want to go to a place and play football and it just be a bum crowd — you want to have people back you and have a fan base to cheer you on when you make those good plays. Since you’re there, you get to feel like what it’s actually like to be there and be around the people that could be cheering for you.
"There’s just been a lot of love."
That’s an understatement. Every school has put its own unique touch on the Bollers pursuit.
While visiting Stanford over the summer, the university included professors in the pitch to emphasize the Cardinal’s academic dexterity. Some form of engineering looks to be Bollers’ future major; he was wowed by the schooling chats as much as the football ones.
There’s more. The day after Florida offered on Sept. 5, Bollers checked his phone at lunch and couldn’t believe what was on the other end: More than 40 text messages had poured in, including ones from every member of the Gator staff. Reporters and other coaches were wanting his attention, as well.
The contact has become so persistent, Bollers’ parents only let their son respond to coaches during certain stretches of the day as to not distract from schoolwork and, well, life, in general. Even programs that haven’t offered, most notably the beastly Crimson Tide, keep the messages pumping.
“We went into this with several criteria,” Trevor said. “Do you have my degree? Do the people here believe in this program they’re building or is this just a stop for them? Because the people matter — Do the people around the program care about the program? Am I going to be part of something that matters?
"We took all of those things into consideration. Then we said, ‘OK, apart from all that, what’s life going to be like here? And does he like it?’ What I’m always looking for are places that make him feel important, and do they make him important when we come back again? When you ask a question and it’s a hard answer to answer, do you still answer it? I mean, I’m trusting you with my son — are you going to be for real about it?"
For now, schools must remain patient as Bollers sifts through the options. More trips are coming from the Beehive Six — that’s T.J., Trevor, mom Jenn and the three younger siblings — in the RV they’ve nicknamed Thaddeus. A decision could come in April, shortly before CCA’s 2020 season or possibly even on Senior Night.
Oh, and there’s Bollers’ high school season. He spends most Friday nights double- and triple-teamed as teams gameplan around the behemoth defensive end, but the Clippers' junior has still managed three sacks and 25.5 tackles.
"He's been keeping a level head and works his tail off," CCA coach Gabe Bakker said earlier this season. "He's been a huge leader for us, and that's where he's grown the most. His teammates look up to him and respect him for how he's handled everything."
Many marvel at the recruiting hype that's engulfed CCA, but Bollers remains the same humble kid he was before the interest intensified.
Even if the phone stays buzzing.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.