Chip Scoggins: Gophers senior loved every moment playing game

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 26, 2011 - 12:16 AM

Chris Bunders is playing his final collegiate game Saturday, and has savored every bit of time playing the game he loves.


Gophers senior offensive lineman Chris Bunders proposed to his fiancee Jennifer Polaski while on a cruise last spring, in front of hundreds of people.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Chris Bunders will play his final college football game Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium. He is one of 24 seniors who will be honored before the Gophers face Illinois to conclude a season that has provided more heartache than thrills.

Not to hear Bunders describe it, though. He sounds like a guy who's about to wrap up his fifth consecutive undefeated season, even though the record book says the Gophers are 19-42 since he joined the program.

"Playing college football, it's pretty hard to have a low moment," he said.

Maybe that's partly rose-colored introspection from a guy nearing the end of a personal journey. Senior Day always carries extra emotion for those involved. Everyone has different experiences and perspective, and a career rarely follows the mental road map athletes bring with them to campus.

Bunders, a 6-3, 292-pound offensive lineman, began his about a mile from where it will end, on the practice field at the Gophers football facility. He took part in the Gophers summer camp after his junior year at Osseo High and allowed me to shadow him for a story. Like many high school recruits, Bunders attended the camp with the hope of impressing the coaching staff enough to earn a scholarship.

He performed well that week and ultimately received a full-ride scholarship from Glen Mason. Bunders celebrated by going walleye fishing at his family's cabin.

"Minnesota just seemed like the right place for me," he said at the time.

Bunders still feels that way, despite a career littered with difficult moments and challenges. He's been in a losing locker room twice as often as a joyous one. He was recruited by Mason, played 3 1/2 seasons for Tim Brewster, five games for interim coach Jeff Horton and his senior season under Jerry Kill.

He has had too many coordinators, assistant coaches and offensive systems to count.

"We've changed our offense almost on a yearly basis," he said.

He is able to laugh about it now. He even described it as "fun." That's just Bunders' personality. To dwell on the hardships obscures all the positive experiences.

He experienced two bowl games and had two home stadiums, the Metrodome and TCF Bank Stadium. He will make his 40th career start Saturday. He has played three different positions -- right guard, left guard and now right tackle -- and avoided serious injury.

He's on track to graduate with a degree in civil engineering this spring, and he's engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Polansky. The two met the first day of their sophomore year at Osseo and began dating in college. Bunders popped the question on a cruise in front of several hundred people this past spring. (He was pretty confident in the answer, but boy that could have been awkward.)

"That would've been a long cruise," he said, smiling.

His highlights on the field come easy.

"Obviously the last two years beating Iowa," he said. "You can't explain that feeling or atmosphere after the game with all the people on the field. It's crazy. Just amazing."

The low point(s)? He paused for a few seconds.

"You know, I really can't think of one," he said. "Every time something changes, it brings new challenges. I've enjoyed all the new challenges that we've had. Obviously you have some tough moments, but it's been a blast."

Bunders hopes to continue playing football, but he understands the odds of him making it to the NFL. He plans to work out for scouts at the Gophers' pro day, but he's also actively looking for employment in the engineering world.

"Hopefully by the time next semester gets done, I'll have a job one way or the other," he said.

Thus will begin a new chapter in his life. That's one of the great things about college athletics. You meet a big, affable kid entering college wide-eyed and then get to watch him grow as a person and player over the years.

It doesn't always work out that way, of course. Some don't make it. They choose different paths. Some can't handle the responsibilities and commitment required of them.

But for those that do, Bunders said, the reward is immeasurable. Maybe not always in wins and losses, but with the entire experience.

"It's a great journey," he said. "Now it's kind of coming to an end. It's a surreal feeling. You dream about it growing up high school. When it finally comes true, you just enjoy the ride."

Chip Scoggins •

  • related content

  • The Call: Gophers vs. Illinois

    Saturday November 26, 2011

    It has an elite receiver and a talented quarterback, yet Illinois has failed to score more than 17 points in any of its past five games, all losses.

  • Bowl-eligible Illini bring talent -- and insecurity

    Saturday November 26, 2011

    It's been all downhill since a 6-0 start, so Illinois now seeks a victory, and a confidence boost, vs. the Gophers.


    2:30 p.m. today at TCF Bank Stadium • TV: Big Ten Network (100.3-FM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Marshall 52 FINAL
Northern Ill 23
Navy 17 FINAL
San Diego St 16
Central Mich 48 FINAL
Western Ky 49
Fresno State 6 FINAL
Rice 30
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 2:30 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon




question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question