Two old Cougs team up for OL/DL Camp

FORMER COUGAR LINEMEN Mkristo Bruce and Joey Hollenbeck have joined forces to put together the first annual Lineman University camp for prep players looking to improve their game in the trenches. CF.C caught up with Bruce and Hollenbeck to discuss the ins and outs of the camp and how else the two old Cougs are spending their days with their NFL careers in the rear-view mirror.

Hollenbeck and Bruce developed the idea for the camp after noticing what they called an extreme lack of developmental opportunities for offensive and defensive linemen. The end result will be that high school hosses in Washington and beyond will have the opportunity to add some top-level instruction to their résumé this summer.

"The game isn't played without the big boys up front, so we wanted to start something to where we're developing our younger offensive and defensive linemen and help them get to the next level," Bruce said. "So why not us two Cougs coming together in our home state, helping these kids not only compete harder in high school but make it to college and the NFL.

Our dream and our goal is to keep this Lineman University camp going to where 5-10 years from now, guys that are playing in the NFL are coming back to coach the camps."

The camp will be held July 30-31 at Pete's Pool (Enumclaw Stadium) in Hollenbeck's hometown. The 98' Enumclaw High School graduate went on to become the first Washington State defensive lineman in more than 20 years to start as a true freshman. He played in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks. It was after he concluded his professional career in 2008 with the Colorado Crush of the Arena Football League, that the idea for a lineman camp began to formulate.

"Since I got done playing I've been putting this thing into action, just writing notes and thinking about it and it just came to a point where I was like 'you know what, I gotta put this thing into action,'" he said. "There's so many camps out there for quarterbacks and skill guys but there's nothing for the meat and potatoes, the offensive and defensive line."

Bruce began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins before eventually joining both the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars. Afterwards he played in the both the AFL and UFL before ending his football career.

Joining Bruce and Hollenbeck at the camp will be several other players and coaches with experience at both the collegiate and professional ranks, including former WSU defensive line coach Mike Walker, former Cougar linemen standouts Rien Long, Steve Cook and Tyler Hunt along with and former NFL linemen Jay Richardson and Jordan Reffett plus others.

Registration opens tomorrow, June 25, and costs $115 per person. Bruce says they're anticipating anywhere from 70 to 120 high school athletes to enroll in the camp.

Bruce said participants will be in helmets and shoulder pads both days, learning everything from "fundamentals of the game all the way up to blocking schemes, pass rush schemes and run block schemes."

"This is something that's gonna be huge, and start steamrolling into something bigger," Bruce said. "It's going to be huge for the state of Washington, for sure."

SO WHAT ELSE have the two former Cougs been up to these days?

Bruce has a home in Maple Valley, with the Cougar flag waving proudly out front. He works at Brotherton Cadillac as a sales manager with fifth-generation Coug Brad Brotherton. Bruce's family is nothing but Cougs. He met his wife Evelyn at WSU and they had their first child Mkristo Jr. at what was then Pullman Memorial Hospital.

"I remember taking ‘Kristo to class with me, walking through the mall, it was great," Bruce said. "He came to practice a few times with me, he used to go to all the games. It was just a blessing to have him and still be able to graduate, everything just worked out great."

Being the crimson-bleeding parents that they are, it's no surprise both Mkristo Jr. and their 4-year-old daughter Grace, already behave like true Cougs.

"It's funny, me, him and Grace go to the store and if they see anything purple and gold they go, 'Eww daddy, eww it's so gross!' but you gotta teach em' young," Bruce joked.

And like many Coug alums, he's optimistic about the upcoming season and excited about the recent renovations to Martin Stadium.

"What Bill Moos has done, has been nothing short of amazing. Him and (Mike) Leach are doing a great job with the football program for sure," he said. "The Football Operations Building is something that was meant to be, we've been waiting for it for a long time. To be able to compete with these other schools and have these type of facilities is huge for us. I just bought a travel trailer and I'm coming up to all the games, I know that for sure."

Hollenbeck too is a family man, also residing in Maple Valley, though his time as father began as his football career was coming to a close.

"On my last year (with the Colorado Crush) my wife was pregnant with our first daughter," Hollenbeck said. "After that second season she was born and it was a time where I evaluated where I was at as far as football and family. So I stepped away from football and started to raise a family and start my career."

He now has two daughters, ages three and five, with a third daughter due June 27. And if all goes well, all five of them will be in Pullman to see the new and improved Cougs.

"With the new little one it's kind of all up in the air but yes, first chance I get I'm gonna be there," he said. "I'm 100 percent on board, they're looking good. We had some tough years but I'm sure excited about this new stuff that's going on, with the new facilities and coaching staff. It's an exciting time for Cougar football."


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