Bold Decision

The plan was never to leave Ole Miss. But Brandon Bolden would be lying if he said a jump to the National Football League wasn't at least tempting following a breakout junior season.

Bolden put out feelers after the Rebels' ended a miserable 4-8 season with a second consecutive loss to in-state rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Moving on to the highest level of football -- the NFL -- was a realistic option. He even got back relatively good news, a late-second to early-third round projection.

"The information was actually pretty good," Bolden said. "Really the whole decision thing, I went home, talked to my parents and the deal was we were just going to see what the NFL said. It wasn't anything definite that I was going to go or anything like that. We were just trying to see. I was just being nosy, being curious."

He talked to his dad, who had the greatest influence on his decision, or lack of a decision. He sought input from teammates, most notably Kentrell Lockett and Korvic Neat. Lockett attended the NFL scouting combine in an effort to familiarize himself with prospective organizations should his appeal to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility be denied. He's still awaiting word a week into March.

However, the evaluations, the scouting reports, the dollar signs weren't enough to pull Bolden away from Ole Miss.

Some reports said he needed to work on his vision, among other things. Rather than throw his name in the hat of an ever-growing field of NFL hopefuls, he simply returned to school looking to improve his stock as a senior.

Bolden opted to return to school after flirting with the NFL
Courtesy: Associated Press
"I just kind of took that and added more fuel to the fire of the offseason, the stuff to really work at," Bolden said. "I said I would just go back to school, shine up everything and see if we can get a better outcome (next time)."

He opted to miss the NFL Network's broadcast of the combine. He found something better to do. Because Bolden had already forfeited his chance to leave school early, to be one of those aspiring draftees running a 40-yard dash, testing his hops with a recorded vertical for professional scouts and hustling through cone drills.

He's back, the deadline in his rearview mirror. And his return is a welcomed one for head coach Houston Nutt and staff, who desperately need his production in the backfield with such inexperience at other skill positions -- quarterback and wide receiver.

"When I got the feedback back, I was like, ‘Well, I'm going to go back to school anyway.' The plan was never to leave Ole Miss at all," he said.

Bolden had reason to leave, if not simply assess his options.

His 2010 season was one of the few bright spots of a trying year, one that saw the Rebels lose to Jacksonville State in the season opener and never really recover. In Southeastern Conference play, they plummeted to a 1-7 record.

He fell 68 yards shy of becoming the fifth 1,000-yard rusher in Ole Miss history. He managed only 45 yards on 12 carries in the season-ending loss to Mississippi State.

But he set records in other ways. He tied the school record with 14 rushing touchdowns in a season, joining Ole Miss greats Kayo Dottley, Deuce McAllister and Archie Manning. He enters his senior season with 23 career rushing touchdowns, good for second all-time.

"First of all, we've got to have a better season than we did last year. That's first and foremost," Bolden said. "Second is a few small things -- vision, try to get my speed a little bit better, work ethic, everything. Just try to make it an all-around game. Have the year I had last year but a little bit better."

Bolden fell just shy of becoming the fifth 1,000-yard rusher in Ole Miss history last season
Courtesy: Associated Press
It all starts in the offseason strength and conditioning program. Bolden said this offseason has been more competitive than in years past. Players are challenging each other, trying to top personal marks set in the weight room by teammates.

Not that there hasn't always been competitiveness. This offseason, though, is more visual. There are signs on the walls of the indoor practice facility detailing players' day-to-day accomplishments -- who's the best, who set the bar, had the highest numbers.

"Everybody's feeding off each other. If you've set the bar high, we're going to try to get that bar down and set up a new one. That's basically how it's been all offseason," Bolden said.

"Since I've been here, it's been kind of word of mouth -- this guy did this, this guy did that. But now you can actually see this guy did it. Now that I can have this visual record, I can break it myself."

For Bolden, lifting weights, running sprints and voluntary 7-on-7s haven't been the most demanding aspects of a reenergized offseason program. Rather, Bolden, an admitted non-vocal player on the field, is being asked to assume a leadership role.

"I was always taught to lead by example, keep your mouth shut," he said.

He's had to work on speaking up when the time calls for it. But he's at least warming up to the role of veteran leader. Monday, strength and conditioning coach Don Decker praised his efforts, when Bolden "went around yelling at people" during workouts.

"Everybody thought it was funny, but it seemed to help a few people," Bolden said. "That's what I've been trying to do, work on the vocal part."

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