by Dennis Dalman
Kristoff Kowalkowski, soon to be 12, said he has loved playing football since he was in third grade because he loved working together as a team to win, and he loved meeting new people.
And Kowalkowski’s not kidding; he does get around. In just the past six years, the Sartell boy has met more people in more cities than most adults do in a lifetime: fellow players, coaches, parents, fans and teachers.
This week, Kowalkowski, who is the son of Dr. Tom and Stacy Kowalkowski, is a guest at the Buffalo Bills training camp in Rochester, N.Y. Two weeks ago, he competed at the nation’s top prep football all-star camp (“Football University Top Gun”) in Dublin, Ohio. And a week before that, he went to a football camp in Massilon, Ohio, where he was a finalist out of 150 quarterbacks in grades 5-12 in the nation.
Of the hundreds of people he’s met, he’s learned something from every one of them.
“I learned new skills and techniques from all the people at every place I’ve been,” Kowalkowski said. “I threw to some very, very talented players from all across the country. I met a lot of coaches, and I learned from them, too.”
Kowalkowski was a student in the Chinese immersion program at Madison Elementary School in St. Cloud. Now he is a student at St. John’s Prep School, Collegeville, with a 4.0 grade-point average. He played football in third and fourth grades in the Sartell School District. Then, in fifth and sixth grades, he played on the St. Cloud Apollo team. This next year, he has contracted to play with the Tech Tigers. Kowalkowski said he also enjoys playing basketball and baseball, which he played during his young years on Sartell teams.
A superb football thrower, last year he threw for more than 1,400 yards, ran 500 yards rushing and scored 18 touchdowns.
Last year, his own father coached him. Tom, who shares a deep passion for football with his son, played football when he was a student at St. Cloud Tech and when he studied biology and chemistry at St. John’s University. Tom was so good he was recruited in Divisions I and II coming out of Tech, but unfortunately he detached his hamstring while long-jumping and so decided on Division III football. Tom is the owner of the Interventional Pain and Physical Medicine Clinic in Sartell. His wife, Stacy, is a registered nurse and administrator at the clinic. Kristoff is the oldest of the couple’s six children – four boys, two girls, all of whom possess athletic talents.
To be selected for Top Gun Football University, a three-day camp in Dublin, Ohio, a player must be the best of the best.
Kowalkowski was invited because of his outstanding performance as a quarterback last year at the Minneapolis camp of Football University. At Dublin, he joined 1,600 of the nation’s top athletes in their respective positions and trained rigorously with current and former National Football League coaches and players.
Among the Top Gun Showcase coaching staff were quarterbacks-coach Jeff Rutledge, former quarterback coach of the Arizona Cardinals; running-back coach Robert Edward; offensive line coach Jim McNally, who is considered the best offense line coach in the game; defensive-back coach Ray Buchanan; and wide-receiver coach Charlie Collis, one of the finest receiver coaches ever.
The purpose of Football University Top Gun is to give elite high-school and middle-school athletes top-flight instruction. Its staff members have privately trained and mentored such outstanding players as Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Tony Romo.
In an interview with the Sartell Newsleader, just before leaving for Rochester, N.Y., Kowalkowski expressed his excitement and eagerness to train with the Buffalo Bills.
He’ll spend three days there and get personal training from, among others, Matt Cassel, the Minnesota Viking who was injured last year and then traded to the Bills. Another quarterback, E.J. Manuel, who is competing for a starting position with the Bills, will also be one of the trainers/instructors.
Kowalkowski said he has enjoyed other football successes, including winning a game last year in Arlington, Texas when he played with a team dubbed Minnesota Mayhem.
Next year, he’ll travel again, this time to Atlanta, where he has been invited to be on a student panel on which all will speak Chinese. While there, he will, of course, attend yet another football camp.
“My dream is to make it to the NFL someday,” Kowalkowski said. “And I might be a doctor, like my dad.”