Bolden started the first two games of the season, but following an awful outing against top-ranked Oklahoma, he lost his starting position to redshirt freshman Charlie Peprah. But the senior wasted no time sulking. "I knew what I had to do," Bolden said. "I just go out there in practice and in the games and don't try to do too much. Just do my job and be a team player."
Bolden handled nickel duties and provided depth the next six games, but Saturday in Nashville he trotted onto the field again with the Tide starting unit. "Hirchel's had a great attitude, and he's made a great comeback," said Bama Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond. "He battled back and stayed positive, focusing on the things that he can do. He's done a really good job."
Franchione explained the decision to start Bolden over Peprah. "Hirchel just had a great week of practice. I've said continuously that we still have confidence in Hirchel. He had a great week of practice, and Coach Thurmond wanted to go with him. He played very well when he got out there."
Playing 24 snaps, Bolden was credited with one tackle and one pass breakup versus the Commodores. But just being back out there, knowing he is once again in good standing with the defensive staff was satisfying. "It's not a matter of proving myself," Bolden said. "But I feel more comfortable now than I was earlier. I'm getting regular playing time now, and I'm trying to take advantage of it."
As the season has evolved, the Tide defensive coaches have settled on a top-three at cornerback. Franchione explained, "We feel like we really have three guys at corner that can be starters, Charlie (Peprah), Gerald (Dixon) and Hirchel. Anthony Madison and David Scott aren't far behind. We take it day to day and see who's doing well. It's not a question that we lost confidence in anybody, it was just a good week by Hirchel."
"Honestly, I think we have more than just three," Bolden said. "I think the coaches could pick anybody out of our unit and play with him."
Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush explained the mental toughness needed to handle the hot corner. "Everybody is going to see your mistakes. It's very similar to playing quarterback on offense. That's a position where you've got to have great self-confidence. Hirchel has played more the last several weeks, which has helped the defense."
Having improved almost on a weekly basis, the Alabama defense finds itself ranked No. 2 in the nation. And no aspect of the unit has improved more than the Tide secondary. "This year there is better communication in the secondary," Bolden said. "We have a better understanding of the schemes. (Last year) the coaches would call a play and we'd go out on the field and it would be quiet. The offense would go in motion, and it would still be quiet. But now we're calling out ‘I got him. You got him. If he does this, then I'll do this.'
"We're always talking. All across the field, linebackers, defensive line--everybody is talking. It's way better than last year. No, it's about 100 times better than last year."
Though he has had his ups and downs on the field, Bolden's physical condition this year is greatly improved. "I couldn't remember the last time I played without at least a nagging injury," he said. "Playing with a separated shoulder prevents you from using your strength, especially with your arms. And I'm using my arms most of the time when I try and press. I'm finally healthy now, and I'm a totally different player. Now I can be as aggressive as I want to be without worrying about messing up my arm."
Bolden has received more than his share of criticism during his career, and the barbs were flying again after Oklahoma. "When I hear people talk, I take it and accept it," he said. "But I also let it be my fuel and motivation. It seems like every year I've been here the secondary has been criticized. I just take it as fuel---just keep it as motivation."
When the tough times hit, Bolden's position coach had a message for him. "I just told him to keep playing--keep believing in yourself," Thurmond said. "When you get in those one-on-one situations, you're not going to win them all. But keep battling. Your time will come again, and when it does be ready to go. He's done that."
"Having a senior to either start or bring off the bench is great," Thurmond continued. "Nobody knows how hard it is until you've played or coached that position. Hirchel has responded amazingly well. He never let things get him down. He just listened to what his coaches told him. It's good to see kids do that."
Losing a starting job is tough. But Bolden knew that keeping the right attitude was the only way to earn it back. "It wasn't a matter of my being down. The coaches played the guy they thought was better. I played within the system and waited for my chance. When I got that chance, I tried to perform.
"In this world things don't happen exactly when you want them to, but I have patience. I can wait. Everything will happen--just maybe not when you want it to--if you have patience."