Zach Sollinger answers the side door of his Brookfield home.
“Come on up,” he says gently.
The 6-foot-6, 300-pound senior barely fits in the staircase as he walks back up to his living room, ducking his head to avoid the ceiling. This isn’t because he’s some tall, fat slob – he’s not. The kid is just huge.
Sollinger walks into his small, cozy living room and takes a seat next to his mother, Kim Dahms, on the couch.
A lot of mothers know how draining it can be to feed an adolescent boy. But very few mothers know how it is to feed an athletic 18-year-old weighing 300 pounds. Kim knows what it’s like.
“It’s like feeding a family of four,” she says without hesitation.
“Tonight he had four or five cheese bratwursts with baked beans. When I make meatloaf, I’ll make three pounds and it’s usually gone by the next day, with me only having two or three pieces. I just shake my head.”
Sollinger looks up to the ceiling and just laughs.
His voice and demeanor don’t appear to match his physical size. He gives off that “gentle giant” vibe.
But try telling that to the dozens of defensive ends he has pancaked to the ground while holding fort as the Riverside-Brookfield football team’s left tackle over the past two seasons. A kid with Sollinger’s size playing arguably the most important position in football rarely goes unnoticed by college coaches. And he is no exception.
Sollinger has received interest from Illinois, Purdue, Colorado, Wyoming, Northern Illinois, Western Kentucky and others. But he still hasn’t received an official offer yet.
“They want to see me run-block,” he says.
An offensive lineman clearing a lane for a running back at Riverside-Brookfield? College coaches have a better chance of seeing a playoff system replace the BCS, right?
Not anymore, not since Jason Rech took over as head coach after the pass-heavy Otto Zeman era ended in June after 27 seasons.
Rech overhauled the entire offensive scheme. Instead of passing 100 percent of the time, RB now runs the ball 65 percent of the time. In other words, college coaches have seen Sollinger do something they’ve never seen him do.
“Run-blocking hasn’t been that hard to adjust to,” Sollinger explains. “It’s just more moving your feet, constantly moving your feet.”
But Sollinger has only been in a system that runs the ball for one season, something Rech says is the only thing that might scare off colleges.
“He’s got the size, long arms and great leverage,” Rech says. “The only thing I can imagine being somewhat detrimental is the fact he’s only been run-blocking for one season. But you got to remember that these colleges have training schedules and facilities that can help a kid like Zach overcome that inexperience. Give him a year in that environment and he’ll flourish.”
Rech adds that Sollinger was impressive with his run blocking this season, not only in conference play, but also in non-conference games against St. Francis and Lemont. The video footage of Sollinger in those games was mailed out to colleges. The waiting game to hear what recruiters think is underway.
It’s funny to think that up until his sophomore year, Sollinger thought his path to collegiate sports was on the basketball court. Out of fear of stunting his growth, Sollinger avoided the weight room like the plague. But that all changed after Zeman, head football coach at the time, had a word with his soon-to-be left tackle.
“Zeman told me I could have a quarter-million dollar education for free from a top school just for being huge and playing football,” Sollinger said. “But he said, ‘You can’t just be huge. You got to be strong, fast and quick.’ After that I was in the weight room three hours a day.”
Sollinger gave up his hoop dreams shortly after the talk with Zeman.
Sollinger leans back on his couch, looks up at the ceiling and ponders which school is number one on his wish list.
“I like U of I, a lot,” he admits.
“If they offered a scholarship today, would you take it in a heartbeat?”
“Well, if it was only a half-scholarship I’d wait it out to hear from others,” he replies. “But if it was a full ride, yeah, I think so.”
Kim smiles as Sollinger answers the question.
All that money she would be saving on college can buy a whole lot of meatloaf.