Former coach remembers N.D. Sports Hall of Fame inductee Brooks Bollinger as wise beyond his years
Mike Berg was head football coach at Grand Forks Central for 27 years—from 1979 to 2006.
In 1994, his starting quarterback was unlike any other during his hall of fame career.
For starters, he had to be hauled from school to practice by his mom.
Brooks Bollinger was still attending Valley Junior High School, as ninth-graders at the time didn't attend high school yet as they do now.
Even then, Berg knew there was something special about Bollinger, who will be introduced by Berg on Saturday as he receives the Cliff Cushman Award as an inductee into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in Jamestown.
"He was a typical freshman in terms of not being as big and physical as the other kids," Berg said. "I think he was certainly physical enough to be able to handle the position. But when he walked into the locker room for the first time, he had this presence that clearly made him belong.
"There was no question in anybody's mind. You have to earn your stripes in a way, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind, including the juniors and seniors, that this would be his football team. That was the kind of leader he was."
Bollinger was a natural. His dad, Rob, was a UND football coach. Rob was known well by the Central coaching staff and Brooks' athletic ability was a known commodity even as a youth.
Although being around the UND football program helped Brooks' football skills, Berg said his former player's inner drive separated Bollinger from the others.
"You have to have something inside of you that makes you understand the perspective of things that the average ninth-grader doesn't have," Berg said. "You could throw more at him because he was able to see things at a young age. He was just advanced when he came in. Somehow he bypassed that freshman awkwardness."
At Central, Bollinger played in every game in his four-year career, passed for 40 touchdowns and ran for 19. He was named the 1997 Gatorade Player of the Year in North Dakota.
"He was always sure of himself," Berg said. "He was mature enough. If he didn't understand, he would stop practice or stop us in timeouts. He was mature enough to say he didn't see this or that. Because of that, we were able to incorporate reads and concepts that you wouldn't in most cases because he was so far ahead mentally."
Bollinger, who was born in Bismarck in 1979, lettered at Central in football, basketball and track. He was a point guard on the 1996 state Class A basketball championship team and a 1998 all-state first-team pick in basketball.
"He was our poster child of a multi-sport athlete," Berg said. "So many kids and parents at the time were thinking they had to specialize, and he blew that all up. He went from one sport to the next seamlessly. He was a gym rat. There was always a sport to play. It was never a chore."
Central didn't have baseball when Bollinger was in high school, but he played for the Grand Forks Royals American Legion baseball team. He was the team's starting shortstop in 1996 and 1997. Despite playing college football at Wisconsin, Bollinger was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2000 and 2001 Major League Baseball drafts.
At Wisconsin, Bollinger was a four-year starter. As a freshman, he helped the Badgers to a second-straight Rose Bowl victory.
Bollinger also won games in the Sun Bowl and the Alamo Bowl. In his career, he threw for 5,627 yards, 38 touchdowns and ran for 1,767 yards. He finished with the most QB wins in school history.
Bollinger was drafted by the New York Jets in the sixth-round of the 2003 NFL draft.
Berg remembers during the rookie season in the NFL, Brooks was on a plane flying to Japan for an exhibition game when he wrote a letter to Central athletes.
"He mentioned what he wouldn't give for one more night under the lights at Cushman Field," Berg said. "Even though he'd already been through bowl games and the NFL, to remember and think back about what those nights at Cushman meant to him, it still sends a chill up my spine."
Bollinger was then traded to the Minnesota Vikings before spending time with the Dallas Cowboys and the United Football League's Florida Tuskers. With the Tuskers, Bollinger was named league MVP.
He retired from professional football in 2011.
After his playing career, Bollinger has had coaching stops at Hill-Murray High School in St. Paul, the University of Pittsburgh as a quarterbacks coach and now coaches Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.
Bollinger is also Vice President and Private Wealth Advisor at North Rock Partners in Minneapolis.
Brooks and his wife Natalie live in Eagan, Minn., with their five children: Miles (12), Beau (10), Livi (7), Isla (4) and Isaac (4 months).
Also scheduled for induction into the sports hall of fame this weekend are Mayville State baseball coach Scott Berry, Linton basketball coach Dan Carr, and Fargo runner Laura Roesler.