Repeatedly, Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt has talked in positive terms about the Rebs' freshmen running backs - Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Devin Thomas.
But he always tempered his praise to include "they haven't been hit yet."
Now, they have and they passed the contact test with flying colors.
"Defenders bounce off those kids," said Nutt. "I was very pleased with the way they handled their first real college contact."
All three are built for contact. All three exhibit the leg drive and speed to generate power. It also helps all three are over 200 pounds, with Brandon and Enrique almost 220.
But still, Nutt wanted to see their reaction when the real striking began.
Bolden's moment of truth came midway through the scrimamge. He took a handoff, made one move to an inside hole and seemed to have clear sailing to the end zone, but 245-pound Middle Linebacker Tony Fein, one of the hardest hitters on the team, stepped in Brandon's path and squared up with the rookie RB.
One was tempted to yell "duck," but Bolden became the aggressor, lowering his head and exploding into Fein, who held his ground with the loud collision. Neither gave an inch and after a two-second wrestling match, Fein got the freshman on the ground.
Stalemate. Or was it?
The look on Nutt's face was priceless - half worried if Bolden would get up, half elated that Fein hadn't knocked Brandon into the third row.
"Did you see that?" Nutt asked excitedly afterward. "The kid just popped up as if nothing had happened. It got my blood boiling."
And that's the way it's been since Brandon Bolden stepped on campus in late May.
The first time we saw him in the weight room, we mistook him for a linebacker.
"That's Brandon Bolden," S&C Coach Don Decker said. "He might be special."
Bolden showed in the offseason that he not only possesses a body sculpted for football, he's a dedicated, tireless worker.
"Brandon came in here to prove something and the quicker he could prove it, the better," Decker stated.
There have been a lot of weight room heroes, however, who could not transfer their prowess in the offseason onto the playing field, so wait-and-see was the approach.
We didn't have to wait long, as Fein found out Saturday.
Later in the scrimmage, Bolden found another crease and headed straight toward the South end zone. A streaking Jamarca Sanford, also known for his hitting ability, smacked Bolden from the side with a square hit. Bolden fell forward, held on to the ball and again bounced up like he had just won Sanford's marbles in the park, smiling.
So, it's obvious Brandon is not intimidated by his surroundings or the task at hand, but how does he feel about the way things are going?
"I think things are going well for all the running backs. We stepped up in the scrimmage," he said, showing he's more about 'team' than 'I.' "We are starting to get it."
Brandon came to Ole Miss determined to make a splash.
"I came in here hoping to impress the coaches and my teammates so I could help the team win. I want to be a part of our winning," he said thoughtfully. "Whatever that means, I'm willing to do.
"We have three freshmen backs and I'm just one in that group. We are all doing well with the learning curve and know our assignments and what we are supposed to do. I believe we will only get better."
Bolden said nothing has been overwhelming yet, but he's still got miles to go to be where he wants to be.
"The biggest thing we have to adjust to is the speed of the game. Our defense is fast, like every defense in the SEC, and it takes time to adjust to that," he noted. "Moves that worked in high school, won't work as well here.
"The learning curve continues, but it's coming."
Brandon said he was never worried about passing the test of being hit. He was prepared.
"The strength staff did a great job of getting us ready for August. I had confidence that I was ready for the physical part of the game because I was trained to be in the summer. I knew I was in good enough shape to handle it," he explained.
Even though the Rebels are working with five main tailbacks in fall camp, Bolden does not feel it's too crowded in the Reb backfield.
"We are one big family. We all feel we will get our shots to carry the ball and help the team and we are all pulling for each other," said Bolden. "The older guys help the younger guys and we know there are going to be certain things one does better than the other and we will get a chance to show what we do well in games."
Brandon said there is one particular area he wants to focus on in the coming weeks.
"I have to improve my pass protection. We are all responsible for protecting Jevan (Snead), Billy (Tapp) and Nathan (Stanley). I want to make sure I get that down because if we can protect them, we are going to win a lot of games," he added. "Right now, it's a technique thing. You also have to know your assignments, but technique is the biggest thing I am learning right now."
Bolden was asked how a talent of his stature "escaped" from the clutches of LSU. He comes from their back yard in Louisiana.
"I sat down with their running backs coach and it was pretty easy to see they had too many running backs already, so I dropped that scholarship," he closed. "It worked out well for me. I am thrilled to be here. I'm thrilled to be a Rebel."
Don't look now Brandon, but you aren't the only one thrilled you are a Rebel.
Houston Nutt sure is.
Bolden has camp buzzing
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