"We operated on Hirchel the end of last month," explained Rodney Brown, Alabama's Head Trainer for Football. "The doctor decided that his shoulder needed to be fixed, especially at his position. They repaired his left shoulder. We operated on him the 22nd (of January)."
As detailed in the February edition of BAMA: Inside the Crimson Tide, Bolden played for most of last season with an injured shoulder. "I first hurt it the last day of two-a-day practices," Bolden said. "I dislocated my left shoulder, and I had to wear a shoulder stabilizer the whole season. It happened again during the year."
As Brown explained, so-called "loose" shoulders are actually fairly common in athletics. And football players whose position calls for them to use their hands constantly to fight off blocks are especially vulnerable. "Shoulders can pop out or pop back in," he said. "Or an athlete can be born loose-jointed, where it slides around.
"What we try to do with those (players) is rehab them, get the rotator cuff muscles strong. Strengthen the entire shoulder girdle complex. We'll use some strapping and bracing and try to get them through. If that doesn't work, then we'll look at surgical options. We were able to rehab Hirchel, brace him and get him through the season."
Once it was determined that playing with the injury would not damage his joint further, Bolden made the decision to play with the problem. "You can't complete a whole season without (injuries)," he said. "I wasn't any different. It's just all mental, I guess. Just be tough.
"Plus, I had a lot riding on this year. This was my first full season I've played at corner, so I had to at least put up a little bit of stats."
Bolden started in every game for Alabama, playing a total of 754 snaps. He finished the year with 48 tackles, one behind the line for a loss of four yards and one quarterback sack for a loss of two. Bolden also had 10 pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
Once the squad returned from the Independence Bowl, Bolden was re-evaluated. And the decision was made to do diagnostic surgery. Brown explained. "The doctor scoped the joint and looked at it. He found a lesion, where Hirchel dislocated it and pulled it away from the front part of the joint and damaged the cartilage rim. At that point the decision was made to go ahead and repair the joint. Get it done."
Basically the doctors tightened Bolden's left shoulder joint, hopefully eliminating the problem he played with all season. He's expected to recover completely, but he'll need several months to regain full strength.
"He'll miss spring ball," Brown said. "Our goal is to have him full-go, no restrictions for the summer off-season program. He's in rehab now and doing well. He's right where he needs to be. He'll rehab with us all during the spring semester. I expect him to be fine."
As Brown explained, certain athletes simply don't have tight shoulder joints. And for Bolden, this wasn't his first problem. "Hirchel had his right shoulder operated on in high school," Brown said. "He's a naturally loose-jointed athlete. He dislocated his right shoulder in high school and had it fixed. He was just unlucky that this would happen on his left side as well."
But normally, once the joint is repaired the problem is solved. "His right shoulder is fine," Brown said. "He's been here three years, and it hasn't bothered him."
Of course the squad is now fully engaged in the winter strength program, lifting weights and conditioning in anticipation of the Night of Champions, a weight lifting exhibition which occurs following spring practice. Last season Bolden set a record for defensive backs with a squat of 440 pounds. And his 330-pound hang clean tied with Shontua Ray.
"He'll be limited in being able to squat, because he can't bring his arm back," Brown said. "As soon as we get the stitches out and get the soreness out, then he can do a safety squat (with a collar on the bar) where he won't have to reach back with his arm."
During the exhibition last spring, Bolden barely beat out fellow senior DB Waine Bacon for the squat record. "He may not get the record on the Night of Champions again this year," Brown said. "That's just bad luck. But he can get all his strength back.
"So long as we have him strong and ready to go in August, we'll be satisfied."