With the emergence of sophomore running back Brandon Bolden after a stellar debut season the year before, expectations were through the roof for the 5-foot-11, 220-pounder. In fact, by the time August rolled around, many were calling for a possible 1,000-yard season.
However, those breakout numbers never materialized. After giving way to senior all-purpose back Dexter McCluster, Bolden finished the year second on the team in rushing with 614 yards while logging four touchdowns.
"Pretty decent," Bolden said in describing his production for the year. "I did everything I could in order to help us win. If we didn't win, I know I tried my best. That's all I can say."
But while his stat line isn't filled with a wealth of 100-yard rushing performances, Bolden may have carved a niche through a versatile role of multiple positions.
Whether lined up at running back, fullback or in the Wild Rebel, Bolden found a way to make plays for Ole Miss down the stretch of the regular season. His 209 yards receiving ranked third on the team for the year, as well as his 20 receptions.
"The first thing is he's so smart," running backs coach Derrick Nix said of Bolden. "We can put him at every spot and it doesn't take two or three reps to get it taught to him. You can tell him one time and he's got it. His versatility is his biggest asset. First of all, he's got a great attitude when we tell him to do anything. But he can do all of it and he doesn't mind."
It's hard not to look at McCluster's 985 rushing yards as the spark for Ole Miss' once dormant rushing attack. In late October, the Largo, Fla. native had yet to gain 200 yards on the ground. Fast-forward to December, and McCluster is now within 15 yards of becoming the sixth 1,000-yard rusher in school history.
And come the 74th annual AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, McCluster will be shooting to become the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and have 500 receiving yards in the same season.
"I think we've got some guys that can step up in like Rodney Scott, Brandon Bolden and some more guys," McCluster said when asked of who could replace him in the Rebel offense next season. "They come to me a lot and tell me how they watch me in practice and try to mimic that speed. I think they're going to step up to the challenge."
Bolden is sure to get the first look.
As a rusher on the year, he's led the team in rushing in four games and remains second on the team with an average of 51.2 yards per game. Bolden has also topped 60 yards on the ground five times.
"Brandon's had a good year. He's done what we've asked him to do," offensive coordinator Kent Austin said. "We moved Dexter to tailback and he became our guy. That's the reason. The amount of reps and touches he would get naturally go down when No. 22 is getting them."
While his year to date isn't quite what he'd hoped for, the future still remains bright for Bolden.
Through the departure of McCluster next season, Ole Miss will be in search of dynamic playmakers. And going by his late-season heroics, Bolden could certainly fit the bill.
"He's become more of a complete back," said Nix. "He's a great pass-protector and a great runner. He's lined up at fullback. He's caught the ball out of the backfield and used the Wild Rebel. He's getting faster and has carried a little more weight. I think he's done a great job this year."
Master of Multiplicity
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