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Meet Jeffrey Bollnow, the Youthful Head Coach Leading the Tanque Verde Hawks to New Heights

By Kevin Thomas



(All Photos by Kevin Thomas)



First-year Head Coach Jeffrey Bollnow is Making History at Tanque Verde High School. What is the Signal Caller’s Magic?

Hawk, Yeah

TUCSON, Ariz. – 2023 will be a year to remember for first-year coach Jeffrey Bollnow and the Tanque Verde Hawks football team, which just completed the best year of its 15-year history. 

The Hawks posted a 9-3 record, which was two more wins than the previous all-time best for the Hawks. The team’s stifling defense allowed opposing teams to score double-digit points only twice in 12 games, averaging 8.8 points allowed per contest.

 To top it all off, the school hosted and won its first home playoff game before falling in the conference 2A quarterfinals to Arizona Lutheran Academy (12-1 record) in an overtime game decided by just one point. 

This season, running back/linebacker Gavin Gilbert, pass rusher Eli Clausen, and the seemingly position-less Grayson Bradshaw – all senior players  – led the team on the field. 

On the sideline, however, the Hawks were guided by Bollnow, a 31-year-old, curly-haired, bright-eyed, defensive-minded sponge. His first year was filled with success and a lot of on-the-job learning, he said. 

“Being a first-year head coach, I feel like everything was learning,” he said. “There's still some lessons, there's still some things I haven't figured out.” 


A Football Family?


Bollnow has been hooked on football for almost 25 years. His connection with the game started at the age of 7 when he told his parents, “I'm done with t-ball. Sign me up for football.”


He joined the Marana Broncos Pop Warner youth football team, where he developed a love for the game, even when it hurt him.

“The first day, split my knee open, blood running down my knee, and like...  I loved it,” Bollnow said with a huge smile. “It didn't matter. I was gonna go do it, and ever since then, I've been, every day's been football.”

The scar is still on Bollnow’s knee, forever a reminder of his first introduction to the gridiron. “Seven years old, picked up a scar, still here, football's still here,” Bollnow said, pointing to his knee. 


Many believe that Bollnow’s love for football was inherited. His father, Kirby Bollnow, is a well-known and highly respected football referee at the high school level in Arizona and was named the National Federation of State High Schools Arizona Football Official of the Year in 2020. 

But the younger Bollnow set the record straight. 


“I think I brought my dad into football,” he said. 


“I think my interest and passion in it led him into it,” Bollnow continued while opening the atrium door for a student who was locked out at the time. “It turned out that my dad enjoyed it too and really liked the refereeing side of things, and it led him to his career with the officiating.” 


Bollnow, who started at defensive back for four years at Cornell College in Iowa, said his relationship with his father was playfully contentious.

“We're almost like rivals. You know what I mean? We debate stuff, like what is pass interference?” he said.

 Bonding over the football ruleset not only brought Bollnow closer to his father, but also gave him an in-depth understanding of what is and is not possible within the field of play. And he sometimes leans on his father for advice, helping him get creative on the field.

 

“‘Hey, I've got this idea. Can I get away with it?’ ‘Hey, what’s the rule on kickoff? How far back can my guys really be?’ ‘Well, they have to be inside the line,’”  Bollnow said, impersonating a conversation with his father. “ ‘Can they be foot on the line?’ ‘No, they can’t be foot on the line.’ ‘Okay, we’ll be one inch in front of that line.’” 


It has benefited his coaching, Bollnow said. “My favorite is the coach rules, like where you can stand. I have asked enough questions that I know the entire rule book. So a ref will be like, ‘You can’t stand there!’ and I’ll say, ‘Rule 9-8-3 says I can.” 

His schemes and strategies result from hours of studying the game, said Javier Morales, a reporter for AllSportsTucson. 

“He's very much of a strategist,” Morales said. “The players know where they're supposed to be at… He's just very much of a bookworm when it comes to coaching.”

Hawks’ standout Gavin Gilbert called him a wizard of the sport. 

“When he casts his plays, that's like his defense,” he said. “His spells are his defense. They're just deadly.” 





“Don’t mess it up.”


Bollnow said being detail-oriented makes him consistent and sets him apart. He even wears the same socks on every gameday: a dark gray pair of crew-cut socks with a neon green stripe at the top where the sock meets shin. 

The higher he climbed on the football ladder, the more he realized how much the small things matter, he said.

“All these little details are the difference between winning and losing, right? And so, I'm just getting programmed that if you want to be a winner, you have to pay attention to details,” he said. 


That mindset came, in part, during his time at Northern Illinois University as a quality control intern. 

Part of his responsibilities was making sure players were attending their classes, and he class-checked players including eventual NFL wide receiver Kenny Golloday.

After returning from NIU, Bollnow was called on by veteran high school head coach Pat Nugent, whom he credits with getting him to where he is today as both coach and teacher. 


“He’s got game,” Bollnow said of Nugent. 


Bollnow worked at Cienega under Nugent and Principal Nemer Hassy, both of whom had coached for decades.  

“My principal is a 20-plus year head coach, and my head coach is a 20-plus year head coach, and so I'm hanging out with these two local legends every single day, sitting in their office,” he said. “Like it's just, I'm spoiled.” 

Bollnow’s time at Cienega helped him gain trust when he took over at Tanque Verde High, Morales said.

“I think the fact that he had established himself as a defensive coordinator at a program like Cienega under Pat Nugent, I think that instantly gave him credibility in the eyes of some of the players who know who Pat Nugent is, how good Cienega was,” he said


Bollnow admitted that he made mistakes as a young educator and coach, even joking that Nugent fired him every week. But everything he did “out of pocket” was checked and corrected. And he’s grateful for the patience Nugent and Hassy showed him as a young coach. 

“[Nugent] didn't get rid of me, he didn't throw me out. He checked me and built me and grew me,” he said.

“Don't mess it up,” Nugent would tell him. To Bollnow, that meant being prepared, so that when the game was over, “I can look myself in the mirror and live with the results. You know what I mean?” he asked. “And that, I think, absolutely found a way into the program [at Tanque Verde].” 

The players noticed the increased level of preparation immediately, Gilbert said. “It's over and over and over. We're repping and repping and repping.”


Wearing all the Hats,


Improvement and attention to detail are not limited to the football field for Bollnow. He brings the same focus and dedication to his teaching. 

“Everything's detail-oriented. The kids know, like, it's going to be super crisp, detailed and  consistent,” he said. “I take care of those kids. I make sure everything's handcrafted,” 

He left Cienega to become a defensive coordinator at Sahuarita High School before being hired as Tanque Verde’s head coach in 2023.

He made it a point to leave his position as defensive coordinator at Sahuarita early and begin to get comfortable at Tanque Verde this March. The uncommon move was part of Bollnow’s plan for adjusting to his new school. 

Bollnow, who studied math for a while in college, took over as a math tutor for Algebra I students who were about to start Geometry. That time getting familiar with his new role proved to be vital to his success this season. 

Players initially came to his classroom just to say hello and meet their new signal caller. The visits became regular meetings with locker room leaders such as Gilbert and quarterback Grayson Bradshaw. 

“I'd actually go in there and do film study with him sometimes. So it'd just be me and him in there and stuff like that. We'd study film preseason.” Bradshaw said, “It was cool to have him on campus for sure, to get to know him before the first day of actual football stuff.” 


Nowadays, Bollnow is seemingly always on campus, his curls peeking out from under the green TV hat, which he almost considers a part of his daily style. He wakes up, drives 45 minutes to school, sets up in his classroom, mingles with staff in the front office and greets students as they flow in. 


“It’s my way to connect,” he said. 


“He didn't use time and distance as an excuse to not be at campus,” Morales said. “If he didn't teach there, or if he was only there for practice, it might've been a different story for that as far as him having a good relationship with [the players].”

Bollnow teaches six back-to-back periods of strength and conditioning class. School lets out around 3:15 p.m., and during football season, practice begins just fifteen minutes later. 

After nearly three hours of practice, Bollnow hangs around, ensuring all tasks are taken care of. When everyone is gone, he leaves campus, making the 45-minute drive back home. 

He might take a break for dinner, but the coach’s job is not done. He uploads practice footage – sometimes shot with a drone, organized by play type and call – so players can easily access the information. 

“I gotta shower in there somewhere, and sleep, and then get ready to run it back,” he said of his nighttime routine. 

Still, he makes sure to feed himself, and students can see their head football coach patiently waiting in the lunch line for the day's lunch. 

“I eat school lunch, so that's dope, ” Bollnow said of how he fuels his long days. “Every day, I ate school lunch and sometimes school breakfast too.”

Gilbert remembers the first time he saw Bollnow in line. He was trying to cut in line with some friends after rushing over from class.

“All of a sudden, I hear a whistle get blown…And I hear my name get called out and [Bollnow’s] like, ‘no cutting!’” he recalls. “I’m just like, ‘Coach, I'm hungry!’”  





Letting it Rip


To continue his success for Tanque Verde, Bollnow will need to grow alongside the school. This was not only Bollnow’s first season as head coach, but also his first time calling offensive plays. He said it was fun, but he knows he needs to evaluate and get better. Part of that will be adding additional coaching staff to help with both the varsity and junior varsity teams.


“Being a leader, I think there's a ton of growth that still needs to occur,” he said. “I think sharing is going to be an area of growth for me, like, how do I let go of some of the things that I'm in control of and know that it's still going to be okay.” 

 

He looks forward to the next football season, he said, but while he waits, he’ll keep teaching, playing Xbox with ex-teammates, and connecting with the Tanque Verde community. 


“That's like one of my favorite things about playing at Tanque Verde, is we're just a family. A big old family, win or lose, you know,” said Gilbert. “We stick together and we just keep on going.”

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