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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016 3 years ago

SIDELINE SCENE: Area seniors play way out of 'sleeper' status in time for National Signing Day

Mere months removed from having little to no recruiting buzz, Olympia senior Jeff James and West Orange senior Ben Bollinger will sign National Letters of Intent Feb.3 for Division I programs.
by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

On Aug. 28 — the day before the 2015 varsity football regular season kicked off — Olympia senior defensive back Jeff James had no scholarship offers. 

The naturally athletic Titans standout had no recruiting buzz.

Tomorrow, though, James likely will ink his name to a National Letter of Intent to play Division I football for the University of Miami.

What a difference a few months can make.

Steven Ryzewski

“Nobody knew about (James) — nobody knew about anyone on this team, because really, all these seniors are first-year starters,” Olympia head coach Kyle Hayes said. “It happened (for James) super fast — 10 weeks is not a long time to have a life-changing event like that.”

That feeling of anonymity James might have experienced entering his senior season is something to which West Orange senior safety Ben Bollinger can relate.

Coming over from Winter Springs for his senior season, Bollinger also had no recruiting buzz or offers. In fact, even after turning in stellar performances week after week for the Warriors en route to the state semifinals, the phones didn’t start ringing for Bollinger until after the season had concluded.

Fortunately — for Bollinger and the schools who caught wind of what he might have to offer — the phone is ringing now. Offers from Southern Illinois and Georgetown were joined by Bollinger’s most recent offer that came Feb. 1 — this one from the Air Force Academy, his first Division I FBS offer.

“I just had to trust in God and know that (recruiting) would pick up if I did my job,” Bollinger said, reflecting on the patience he had to have while waiting for his recruitment to pick up. “It’s felt good. I knew I had it in me all along, but it’s good finally seeing my hard work pay off.”

Ben Bollinger's most recent offer came from Air Force Feb. 1.

In the age of Hudl highlight tapes and Twitter, an age where blue-chip recruits often have their first FBS offer before they have a permit to operate a motor vehicle, the two area standouts are proof that it’s never too late to make an impression.

When Hayes took over the program at Olympia after the 2014 season, James stood out as a natural athlete with “a nose for the ball.” After injuries and other circumstances kept him from playing much, James was unleashed by Hayes and his staff this past fall and balled out to the tune of nine interceptions and five touchdowns as he also got reps at wide receiver.

Miami, where James’ uncle — former NFL running back Edgerrin James — played his college ball, took notice.

Meanwhile, Bollinger joined a team that was already loaded with Division 1 recruits and refused to be overlooked. In his one season in blue and orange, the safety was in on seemingly every tackle for the Warriors and helped the West Orange defensive unit take a huge step forward. He was recognized by the Orlando Touchdown Club as its Defensive Player of the Year.

On Monday, Bollinger said he planned to have his decision made by Wednesday so he could take part in the Warriors’ Signing Day festivities. Assuming he will sign his name to an NLI tomorrow, it will be a special day for the hardworking young man — the same as it will be for James.

Of course, it’s also a great day for the two schools who were able to reel in these former ‘sleepers.’

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