Demonte Bolden is a physically imposing 6-foot-6, 285-pound sophomore from Chattanooga who played sparingly as a freshman last fall. The good thing about Bolden is that he has tons of potential. The bad thing about Bolden is that he didn't exhibit much of it in the Vols' first spring scrimmage. But the BEST thing about Bolden is that, after watching film of the scrimmage, he realized how poorly he played and vowed to redeem himself.
"That was a horrible scrimmage," he said shortly before the Vols went on spring break. "I felt I could do way better than that."
How did he foul up? Let him count the ways:
"I stayed too high," he said. "I played like I did last spring – wild. I didn't take on my blockers."
Those are three deadly mistakes for a defensive tackle. Even so, Bolden's rare combination of size, strength and agility enabled him to make a few plays that caught head coach Phillip Fulmer's eye.
"Coach pointed out some good things, too, told me not to get down on myself," Bolden noted. "He said to come out and play your hardest."
Defensive coordinator John Chavis decided Bolden, a former Parade and USA Today All-American, was putting too much pressure on himself. So the Vol aide told the young stud to relax.
"Chief told me to come out here and have fun," Bolden said. "I brought that out here (onto the practice field). Instead of going to work, I like it better when it's play. I felt like I accomplished a lot more than I did in the scrimmage. I practiced way better than I did in that scrimmage."
With Mahelona and McDaniel departed and Mapu a question mark, Bolden knows he can be a factor at defensive tackle next fall. Did he feel pressure to prove himself this spring?
"At first I did," he said. "Then Chief sat me down, told me to calm down, just be a kid and play. He told me you mature and grow up faster as you have fun. I felt I had to grow up too fast The team chaplain (former Tennessee State football aide James Mitchell) told me to calm down, play my game, and everything would come to me."
Fans expect a lot of heralded signees, and few have been more heralded than Bolden. Still, he says that didn't increase the pressure on him to produce immediately.
"No, it didn't," he said. "Everybody's equal when I came up here. Last year I sat on the bench. They gave me some down time to mature, and I looked at the game differently. Coach told me to grow up, and I grew up a little bit on the bench."
How much has he grown up? Even Bolden isn't sure.
"I had a lot to learn … still have a lot to learn," he said. "I still have a summer to go, so we'll see after that."
That sounded pretty mature, didn't it?