BOULDER - The University of Colorado football program lost one of its own Friday morning when Bryan Stoltenberg passed away at his home in Sugarland, Texas. He was 40.
Stoltenberg recently had undergone several surgeries after being the victim in a car accident in mid-December. An autopsy is expected to reveal he died of a blood clot as a result of what he endured the last three weeks, though the family pastor said that when he woke up Friday, he felt as good as he had in quite some time.
Stoltenberg earned consensus first-team All-American honors at center as a senior in 1995 and was a two-time, first-team All-Big Eight performer (1994, 1995). As a senior, he was one of 10 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award. He was a sixth-round draft choice by the San Diego Chargers in the 1996 National Football League draft and went on to play in 50 career NFL games with the Chargers (1996), New York Giants (1997) and Carolina Panthers (1998-2000).
His CU record of 44 career starts was just broken this past fall by defensive end Will Pericak. He played three seasons for coach Bill McCartney and one under Rick Neuheisel.
Several of Stoltenberg's teammates were shocked and saddened that they have lost one of their own, one of the best offensive linemen in CU history, as well as a close friend.
His offensive line colleague, Derek West, who played was one year ahead of Stoltenberg but started at tackle for three seasons with him, spoke on behalf the guys who were in meetings and practiced under line coaches Mike Barry and Terry Lewis.
"Bryan was a dear friend, loyal father, husband and an amazing teammate," West said. "While we mourn the loss of this great man, we're comforted knowing that Bryan is in a better place. I will always remember Bryan's infectious laugh and smile. He had this bigger than life aura about him and this consumed all those around him. He constantly had an upbeat attitude and outlook at everything life threw at him.
"I will greatly miss my dear friend and cherish all the memories we had on and off the field."
Rashaan Salaam, CU's 1994 Heisman Trophy running back, recalled how important "Stoli" was to him. "I was the one who won all those awards, but without my offensive line, that never would have happened," Salaam said. "I always believed that those awards were honoring all of us, and Stoli being the center was the heart of that great offensive line. They all went on to play in the NFL, that's how good that group is, and to learn that one of them is now gone is just devastating to me, to all of us."
Similar sentiments were echoed nationwide by Kordell Stewart, who paid homage to his fallen teammate on his radio show in Atlanta, Matt Russell, now the Denver Broncos' director of player personnel, and Keith Miller, who now performs with the New York Metropolitan Opera.
"Stoli meant the world to me," Stewart said. "A quarterback and his center for three years. We had great chemistry. I can't tell you how many times I would be running downfield and if he didn't pave the way for that to happen with a great block, he was in front of me looking to make one. A great player, even a better person."
"We've lost one of the good... no, one of the great ones," Russell said. "It hits you hard. You just don't expect to receive this kind of news."
"Horrible, just horrible. It is so sad to hear this," Miller said. "A great teammate, just a great guy."
***Services are scheduled for 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday (Jan. 8) at the Sugarland Baptist Church in the southwest suburbs of Houston (16755 SW Freeway, Sugarland, TX 77479; 281/980-4431 ... located near US 59 and Sweetwater Blvd.).
Stoltenberg is survived by his wife, Laura, and three sons, Austin, 16; Jacob, 14; and Andrew, 11 (the younger two boys have birthdays within the next month). An educational fund for the children is being set up for the children through Chase Bank; details are being finalized.
Stoltenberg is the second CU player to suddenly pass away within the last month. In December, Bart Roth, who played linebacker under coach Bill Mallory in the mid-1970s, died from an apparent heart attack at his home in Omaha. He was 57.