By Zach Reagan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the words of Penn State head coach Bob Warming, Sam Bollinger is the "ultimate student-athlete for Penn State and one of the best stories in State College."
Bollinger, a former walk-on from State College, and now scholarship athlete on the men's soccer team, finds himself balancing academics, research and athletics perfectly. He originally came in as a biomedical engineer major, but realized that wasn't for him. With some influential advice from his father, J. Martin Bollinger, who's a Penn State chemistry professor, Bollinger switched to chemistry, a move he did not think he'd ever make. His father told him chemistry is a good foundational science bachelor's degree to graduate with.
He hopes to intern at a hospital to gain clinical experience with the ultimate goal of attending medical school after graduating from Penn State. Away from the soccer field, Bollinger uses his brilliant mind to assist complex lab work a floor below his father's office.
"I'm working with protein that fluoresce when there are stress conditions in the cell that cause various types of diseases and conditions in people," said Bollinger. "We're trying to find an efficient way to get protein into mammalian cells so you can attack those conditions before they start to affect the organism."
"The guy is crazy, wicked smart," said Warming. "He is a brilliant student, great kid, great story, worked hard as heck on his skills, and his attitude is infectious every day. 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."
Bollinger has little time to waste when it comes to academics, playing soccer and conducting research, but he's maximized the most of it. The structure of his days actually helps him succeed in every aspect of his life. He earned Big Ten Distinguished Scholar status this year when he recorded a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 3.7 or higher last year.
"It's tough," said Bollinger. "You need to sacrifice some stuff. It's time consuming. My grades have been better since I've been on the team."
Bollinger wasn't on the team as a freshman as he didn't follow the same trajectory from high school as most of his teammates. He went overlooked by college teams and he, himself questioned his playing ability.
"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 and played on the club team my freshman year," said Bollinger.
Knowing that the team was holding walk-on tryouts, Bollinger missed the competitiveness of high-level soccer and trained all summer before his sophomore year. He prides himself on fitness being a main component of his game. For a midfielder, Sam's position, fitness goes a long way. He focused on distance, sprinting and interval work during his training leading up to the audition for the team.
"I got as fit as possible because I knew coach likes fit guys," said Bollinger.
Bollinger proved to Warming he had the fitness to play on the team with his 7:20 in a mile and half time. At this year's media day, Warming said the other guys weren't 'Sam fit' and his remarkable fitness was at a different level.
"He basically lapped everybody else that was pretty fit who were trying out for the team," said Warming.
Bollinger earned himself a spot on the team by putting on an impressive tryout.
"It's been a dream come true," said Bollinger. "It's unbelievable. I lived here my entire life. I've been coming to games since I can remember."
The midfielder appeared in 14 games along with three starts while notching six points with three goals in 2015. That success has continued this year as he has started in the past two matches while appearing in nine so far this season.
Bollinger earned himself an athletic scholarship, and he continues to work diligently at his soccer craft, one of his many special abilities.
For more information on Nittany Lion men's soccer, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com and follow the team on the various social media platforms.