NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- When Christopher Bolender graduated high school and enlisted in the Navy, his dreams of playing college football didn’t fade away, they were simply put on hold.
Walking off the field after his final high school game, this Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native didn’t feel sorry for himself because he knew that, one day, he would again be able to play the game he loved so much. Instead, Bolender attacked the Navy with the same dedication he displayed on the gridiron.
Now, four years later, Electronics Warfare Technician (EW) 2nd Class Christopher Bolender is going back to Florida to fulfill his dream. In August, this USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Sailor will walk on at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) to play football for former Marine, Howard Schnellenberger.
“I’ve wanted to play college football since grade school,” said Bolender, “but I didn’t have the money or the physical ability to play, so I joined the Navy.”
Since joining the Navy, Bolender has been working toward his goal of playing Division I college football. With the help of an extensive weight training program and some more unconventional methods, such as utilizing a parachute to facilitate wind resistance while running, Bolender has gained 60 pounds, and some speed, since graduating. Coming out of high school, Bolender weighed a very average 170, now this Sailor tips the scales at 230 pounds.
Bolender drew his motivation for this intense workout program from both his dream of playing football and from something he had been told long ago. “Someone once told me, ‘you can’t go to college if you don’t have something to show them,’” he said. Now, after four years in the Navy, Bolender has plenty to offer FAU.
While Bolender won’t initially receive a scholarship, he no longer has to worry about paying for school. The Florida native gave the Navy four years of his life, and now the Navy is giving him something back. “With the experience I’ve gained in the Navy and the $47,000 for college they’re giving me, I can take advantage of the opportunity FAU has offered me,” Bolender said.
However, the Navy has also provided Bolender with more than money. This HST Sailor believes that some of the skills he has learned while in the military will transfer well to football. “The leadership techniques and the ability to think on my feet I’ve learned will definitely help me,” said Bolender.
HST is also helping Bolender reach his goal. Although he is not due to get out of the Navy until September, the ship has agreed to grant Bolender terminal leave several months early so that he may take full advantage of a recent FAU offer.
The school, set to begin its second season of I-AA competition, has offered Bolender the chance to visit the campus and use their athletic facilities this summer, an opportunity he intends to take advantage of. “Walk-ons are not until August, but if I can go to summer school and get to know the team, I’ll be better prepared for what is to come,” Bolender said.
Although he is set to leave the Navy, Bolender is grateful for all the military has given him. “I’ve been trained in fire fighting. I’ve completed electronic warfare school and been given all the knowledge that comes with it,” he said. According to Bolender, the Navy has provided him with training and experience he could have never attained in the civilian world.
The crew of HST has often been applauded for its winning attitude, and Bolender hopes to bring some of that attitude to FAU, where the Owls posted a 4-6 record last season.
Whether or not FAU is able to turn it around next year, one of the team’s players will have already won. EW2 Christopher Bolender will finally be playing college football because he never gave up on his dream. “Dreams don’t go away unless you stop feeding them,” he said. Christopher Bolender never did.
For more news about USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), go to the HST NewsStand page at http://www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn75/.