Jason Bollman made the four-hour-plus trip from Wabash (Ill.) Valley College to his home in Dunlap, Ill. over the weekend where he found a surprise waiting.
His mother Michelle livened the family living room with purple and gold balloons and a giant homemade poster, cementing the festive mood in the days since Jason Bollman committed to LSU’s nationally ranked baseball program in the Class of 2021.
“It’s surreal, a crazy feeling,” Bollman said. “My mom’s already ordering LSU gear.”
Improbable would be a good place to start capturing the rise of Bollman’s career, one seemingly derailed five years ago after he was cut as a junior from his varsity baseball team at Dunlap High.
Two junior colleges later Bollman, a hard-throwing 6-2 ½ 180-pounder, has found his way from the Midwest to the Deep South with all of his goals intact. His burning desire to continue to prove his emergence as a national prospect – and potential Major League Draft choice next year – isn’t a fluke.
“I got to take a deep breath after the commitment,” he said. “It was like, ‘Wow, after all of these years of hard work I’m ready to get going’. It’s not done.”
Bollman turned heads in the Kernals Collegiate League this past summer, throwing 14 scoreless innings including a combined seven-inning no-hitter – with 21 strikeouts, five hits and two walks.
Then last week, he enjoyed a second breakout moment.
Wabash Valley College, where Bollman is pitching after two years at Danville Area Community College, staged its Pro Day. More than 30 Major League Baseball scouts were on hand to evaluate the program’s next wave of talented players.
It turned into a quite a showing for Bollman. Scouts watched Bollman’s fastball operate between 94-97 miles per hour, a slider range between 82-85 and change-up 81-83.
“This summer was the biggest jump for me,” said Bollman, who also indicated a jump of eight miles in his fastball to 91 this spring. “I’ve put on more weight, took the weight room more seriously, and all of the stretching and flexibility improved my mobility to throw harder.”
Accounts of Bollman’s mound prowess spilled over to social media. Not only film of his throwing session garnered plenty of attention, but so did reports of his increased velocity.
LSU had already become interested in Bollman, a one-time Toledo commitment, after watching video of his first live at-bat pitching session at Wabash where his fastball topped out at 96 and slider at 85-86.
After his display at Wabash’s Pro Day, the floodgates literally opened. Bollman had either scholarship offers or dialogue from Virginia, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, TCU, Louisville, Michigan and Kansas State.
Arkansas and Ole Miss also wanted into the mix. But Bollman, after several calls with LSU’s coaching staff ranging from recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain, pitching coach Alan Dunn and head coach Paul Mainieri, was sold on becoming a Tiger.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to entertain other schools,” Bollman said. “It was more about that I knew where I wanted to go and where I wanted to be. I didn’t even hesitate.
“There was a personal feel with LSU. The relationships over the phone were by far the best with this staff. It felt like a no-brainer to me. Since I got the offer, I went to bed knowing where I wanted to go. I wondered why I was waiting.”
Bollman’s ecstasy was in stark contrast to the sinking disappointment he experienced in 2016 when he failed to make Dunlap’s varsity team in his first attempt.
“It was devastating,” he recalled.
Bollman stepped outside of his comfort zone in the fall of his senior year and joined the school’s football team for the first time. He earned a starting spot at cornerback and helped Dunlap to a 13-1 record and state runners-up finish.
He returned more than determined than ever for his senior baseball season, earning a spot on the team. But with a pair of Division I pitchers already in front of him, Bollman was limited to three innings on the mound while starting in centerfield and also playing shortstop.
“That senior year was a big comeback year for me to be able to play and start on the football team when I had never played football,” Bollman said. “All of the hard work shows about how I care about the game. It was something I never wanted to let go of.”
Without any interest for a pitcher with three varsity innings to his credit, Bollman attended Danville Area Community College.
He was 1-6 with a 5.44 ERA with 58 strikeouts and 40 walks in 51.1 innings pitched. Then, this past spring he was 1-0 with a 5.63 ERA in eight innings when Danville’s season was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. With an additional year of eligibility, he opted to transfer to Wabash Valley.
“I decided to give myself another year to develop,” Bollman said. “I went to work from there coming out of quarantine and seeing what I could do.”
Bollman took advantage of a 30-game, round-robin schedule in the summer where the popular Prospects League merged with the Kernals Collegiate League to create a four-team league.
He blossomed in a league comprised of other college players. His first highwater mark came July 1, going the first five innings in a combined seven-inning no-hitter that consisted of six strikeouts and one walk. He followed that with a complete-game, five-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts, setting the stage several months later for a memorable outing at his Pro Day, becoming the talk of both college coaches and Major League scouts.
For Bollman, the former high school player who at 5-11 and 160 pounds and threw 78-82, it was a testament to his perseverance after not being deemed good enough as a junior to make his varsity baseball team.
“The crazy part is that’s the question that everyone still asks to this day,” Bollman said in reference to being cut five years ago. “There’s still coaches in my conference tweeting, ‘How did this kid not get a chance in high school’? It’s an answer I wish I knew.
“It was almost surreal to see that name (high school coach at Dunlap) pop up on my phone again when he heard I committed to LSU. I’m going to really go for my dreams where I am now. It’s crazy how it’s all unfolding in front of me.”