Sophomore Tailback Brandon Bolden was considered by some as the "other guy" when he signed out of Baton Rouge, LA, last year.
Enrique Davis and Devin Thomas were both more highly-touted out of high school.
But when the dust cleared, Brandon earned and maintained the number two TB slot behind Cordera Eason during his freshman year. Yes, ahead of Davis and Thomas.
"I think a lot of my success had to do with me getting here last summer a semester before Enrique and Devin did. I was a month ahead of them in my progress and wasn't learning from scratch by the time they arrived," he said modestly.
Granted, as the year progressed, Dexter McCluster played more and more at the tailback slot, which cut into everyone's snaps, but in the end Bolden had 98 carries for 542 yards (a 5.5 per carry average) and five touchdowns.
Not bad for a "rookie."
But none of that matters now, in his mind. It's a new year and a new proving ground for him and all the tailbacks.
"It's hard to tell how the tailback competition is going to shake out - that's what spring training is for," he stated. "We are all showing out in the offseason. Spring training will be no different. It's going to be real competitive.
"And to compound matters, we signed a couple of really good tailbacks this year. The position just got more crowded."
Bolden's offseason goals were status quo - faster, stronger and injury free.
"The coaches asked us to invest in the offseason and it would pay dividends next year and that is what I did," he stated. "I've gotten my body a little more compact, so to speak. I feel more solid now.
"I have stayed the same with my body weight (218 pounds), but I'm different. I have also gotten faster laterally, which I needed to do. My cone drills times dropped a lot, and that measures side-to-side movement."
When Brandon looks back on his freshman campaign and tries to evaluate what he needs to improve on, the number one thing on his hit list is pass protection.
"I have to improve in that area. I felt I got better at it as the season progressed, but that's one area I wasn't satisfied with," he explained. "It's hard to see over the offensive line and see where the pass rushers are coming from sometimes. You have to know a lot and make sure you are in sync with the OL."
Brandon anticipates his role in the Wild Rebel formation to continue.
"I think I'll still be in that package some. Dexter is the main guy, but I have a place in there too when they want someone with more power," he noted. "It's a fun formation. What's really cool is how it spread through college football and into the pros last year and our coaches are the ones who brought that formation to the public's eye."
Bolden is comfortable with his knowledge of the offensive system, but he knows he can always do better.
"You have to be positive with your assignments on this level. If you make a mistake, you pay, so I can always improve," he added. "I'm hoping in spring we are going to add more passes to the tailbacks in our passing game. I don't want to be selfish, but I think our group of tailbacks could be good in the passing game."
Brandon looks for the tailback situation to be the same in 2009 as it was in 2008 - the hot hand gets the ball.
"I believe we have too much talent for one guy to just take over. I think we'll keep splitting time and wearing people down with one fresh back after another," he said. "I like rotating backs. It keeps all of us on our toes and keeps the competition going. We all know if we let up we are not going to play and that's not in our nature. It's a good situation for all of us. You get what you earn. You can't ask for more than that."
Bolden doesn't look much at the high early projections for the 2009 Rebel team.
"It's all just talk. The people who pick those things are not here with us every day. They are the same folks who didn't think we had a chance against Texas Tech, so how much credibility should we give that stuff?" he asked. "We are just out to prove something every day around here.
"I think we can be real special, but we have to prove it. You can't talk it, you have to go out there and do it."
The tailback spot will be a free-for-all in spring and into the season.
But you can wager that Brandon Bolden will be in the middle of the fray.
Brandon Bolden -
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