Sam Bollinger’s Journey From Club Soccer Player To Scholarship Athlete
Throughout high school, Sam Bollinger was a soccer star. A four-year letterwinner for State College High School and a member of the PA West Olympic Development Program, Bollinger had offers to continue playing in college.
Admittedly, his biggest problem was confidence. Instead of jumping at the offers, he decided to move on from the sport and attend Penn State as a student, not a student-athlete.
“I had a big decision coming out of high school,” Bollinger said “I had places that wanted me to play there, but they weren’t the academically competitive schools or schools that I wanted to go to. So I had to decide whether I wanted to come here or play soccer and I decided to come here.”
He decided that he was ready to put his dreams of playing soccer at the highest possible level behind him and joined the club soccer team during his freshman year. For Bollinger, playing soccer at the club level wasn’t the same. He started to miss the sport he grew up playing.
With what he credits as a physical and mental maturation since his senior year of high school, Bollinger decided he wanted a shot at playing college soccer. Before his tryout, he shifted his focus to one of the aspects of the game that has become his trademark within this team.
“I decided I’m going to get as fit as possible because I heard the coach likes fit guys,” Bollinger said. “I just always try to keep fitness as a big part of my game. You know I wasn’t trained at the best clubs in the country so my touch was a little bit behind when I got to college, but I tried to make up for it with my fitness and athleticism.”
Bollinger would get his shot to make this Penn State team after his year of work to get in shape. Right from the get-go, his strategy paid off. Bollinger made his name immediately known to coach Bob Warming during the tryout.
“One of the first things we do at walk-on tryouts is we have a fitness test,” Warming said. “The other guys that were trying out were pretty fit but there was one guy who was lapping them all. The other guys were not ‘Sam fit.’ Sam is a different level of fitness and it’s remarkable.”
Landing a spot on the team was one challenge for Bollinger, but it was a different challenge altogether to make an impact within the program.
“Being able to play at the Division I college level is way faster than anything I had ever seen before,” Bollinger said. “So it took me a year to adjust. I didn’t play at all my first year on the team. Understandably, I wasn’t ready for the speed of play.”
With the level of play stepping up, Bollinger needed to step up his game as well. Eventually he did manage to make his way onto the team last season. He succeeded in a role off the bench for much of his second season, scoring three goals in 14 appearances.
Bollinger’s work ethic extends beyond the pitch. He has big aspirations once his time playing soccer with the Nittany Lions is complete.
Bollinger, a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, is a chemistry major. Originally entering Penn State as a bio-engineer, he changed his degree path with some guidance from his father, who’s a chemistry professor at Penn State.
The plan for Bollinger seems straightforward for him: finish up his last two seasons of eligibility and then look into getting clinical experience at a hospital before heading to medical school. While he makes it seem very straightforward, his incredible work leading up to this point makes him the epitome of what a student-athlete should resemble.
“I wasn’t on the team my freshman year and my grades have been much better since I’ve been on the team,” Bollinger said. “I find it kind of helps to keep my day structured. I know when I have practice so I try to get my homework done before then and I allot myself time to study and stuff like that.”
While he does have a bright future ahead of him, Bollinger’s focus is on the present as of now. He is hitting his stride in his collegiate soccer career, starting and playing all 90 minutes of the past two matches after featuring as a sub for seven of the first eight games of the season.
It’s not just his play that is critical to the team in recent weeks. It’s his attitude that he’s brought to the field since joining the team.
“[Bollinger] worked hard as heck on his skills and his attitude is infectious every day,” Warming said. “He comes ready to go. He is sleeping five hours a night because he is up late studying and he comes with a ‘hey let’s go’ attitude every day. For a local guy to do that and to be that guy and become a scholarship player at Penn State in our sport is pretty cool thing”
For as hard as he’s worked to get to this point, no individual event or accomplishment defines his journey. It’s the culmination of it all, representing his hometown school Penn State, that has made it all worthwhile.
“It’s been a dream come true just to be a part of this,” Bollinger said. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve lived here my entire life. I’ve been coming to these games ever since I can remember and it’s always been my dream to play. Coming out of high school, I didn’t know if I was good enough, but I wanted to come to Penn State. So I came.”