|This story originally published on Dawgman.com|
With more college defenses going to a 3-4 front, there is a growing demand for that hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end type.
One 2014 prospect that fits that mold is Curtis Bolton, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta.
When asked what sets him apart on the field, Boltson said: "I feel I have amazing hips; my closing speed is really nice. My hands are really good. My IQ in football is really high, so that helps out a lot. Some of my weaknesses are my feet. They aren't as good as my hands so I have to work on that. And I'm still working on my drops at linebacker. So those are a couple things I'm working on so I can come back next year stronger.
"For a great player, you always need a great work ethic. And behind that, a great coach. My coach gives me a lot of moves to use. My coach is a big reason why my numbers are so big. And on top of that, we have a lot of weapons on our defense, so there's not one guy you can formation around. We have four or five guys, and that helps me a lot."
Bolton said he learned quite a bit from one of the best hybrid athletes from the 2013 class, Su'a Cravens.
"Su'a is a great dude," Bolton told Scout.com Wednesday. "We're really good friends and we still keep in touch even though he's now at SC. It was a good point to start because I played my sophomore year, too. Before he moved to safety he was at SAM linebacker and I was his D-end. We spent a lot of time together in practice. He helped me out a lot with my game. In big games they had to account for Su'a and they sometimes didn't account for me. It helped out my game. He was a great part of helping getting me through my first year of starting. Playing in a CIF game as a sophomore was mind-boggling for me because I was so young and it was amazing to play next to him. Off the field he's a cool guy and he helps me out a lot. I was glad to play my first two years of varsity football with him."
Cravens taking up his own space allowed Bolton to get a lot of work done as a junior last year for the Broncos. The first team All-League performer had 96 tackles, 15.5 sacks and a whopping 36 tackles for loss - basically terrorizing opposing backfields. He also had 23 quarterback hurries and five forced fumbles.
Last summer, Bolton, at 6-foot-2, knew his future wouldn't be as a straight-up defensive end. "Mostly teams were looking to see if I could get those drops and cover tight ends, running backs and slots," he said. "As soon as the season was over and I could get into the 7-7s, they realized that I could cover and my drops were good."
Washington was the first in line to offer Bolton a scholarship. "Washington offered about three weeks ago," he said. "They run a 3-4 defense. There's a lot of d-ends and there's a lot of outside linebackers, but there's not a lot of 3-4 hybrid guys like I am - like a stand-up 3-4 defensive end. They just liked the way I get after the quarterback and when they saw my drops that's all they were waiting on. They said I would be a big-time guy for their 2014 class."
Bolton admitted that the scheme a college runs could end up being a big part of his decision-making process when ultimately choosing a college. "Honestly, it's a huge part if they run a 3-4," he said. "But if the coaches have a good plan for me, even if they don't run a 3-4 that's completely okay, too. But I'm really looking for a program that runs a 3-4 defense, like Washington, UCLA - teams like that. And Boise State. If they do run a 4-3 and I'm a SAM 'backer and they have a plan for me and what they want me to do, I'm completely fine with that too."
The Huskies got Bolton to come visit Washington during their Underclass Day. The UCLA Bruins were also calling Bolton to get him to visit that same weekend, but at least for that 48 hours he was already spoken for. "It's not every day that I can go there," he said of his trip to Seattle. "UCLA is an hour away. When UCLA called to ask me to come up there I had already been set up at Washington. I should be taking an unofficial to UCLA in the next few weeks."
Bolton broke down his visit to the Emerald City. It was a brand-new experience for him. "It was amazing," he said. "I was going up there to Washington and to Seattle expecting there to be terrible weather, pouring rain. When I got up there Seattle is a beautiful area. It drizzled for about 20 minutes. It was pretty cold; it's not the California weather I'm used to but it's definitely weather I could adjust to.
About Washington, Bolton said: "The campus is amazing. The facilities, they are being built right now but we saw the layout to it and it looks nice. I'm excited to see what that's going to look like in a few months."
Bolton's most immediate plan is to partcipate in the New Level 7-on-7 Tournament in Vegas, as well as a few smaller passing tournaments around SoCal. He is scheduled to be at the Under Armour camp in Los Angeles and the Oakland NFTC and is also planning on going to summer camps at UCLA and USC, and said he is "80 percent" sure of attending Boise State's camp. Bolton said that he already has plans to come back up for Washington's Rising Stars camp.
What does Bolton like about UCLA? "In the past few years they haven't been that winning team, but when they got that coaching change and Jim Mora did an amazing thing for that program, he turned it around in a short time," he said. "That stood out to me, and their recruiting class they had was a pretty good one. The outlook for them in the future is nice and they run the 3-4. When they started to recruited me, their linebacker coach (Jeff Ulbrich) is a cool guy."
And Boise State? "Boise State, they are a winning program and they are another 3-4 school," he said. "The coaches are showing me a lot of love and the fact that they want me to be a part of their team is nice to know. They know how to get things done."
About a week ago, the Oklahoma Sooners threw their hat in the ring, being the second team to offer Bolton. "I was shocked when I got it," he said. "I didn't think they were going to offer that quick. Oklahoma, that's a great program. Even though they don't run that (3-4) defense, they are a great program to be in and are definitely a school that would be a choice of mine because they know what to do. I haven't talked to them as much as I want to, but I'll know more in the future. But just the fact that they are a program that knows what they are doing and they know how to win and how to get things done is always a major plus."
Up next were the Washington State Cougars. "On Sunday, after Oklahoma offered me Washington State called me and I got a full ride from them too," Bolton said. "I don't know much about them yet but any school that's showing interest in me right now is a plus. And since they just offered me it's brand new so I haven't gotten to talk to them and get on a deeper level about their plans for me and how I fit into their school…so they are another school I'm waiting on talking to."
With three offers under his belt, Bolton is bracing for even more attention once he gets to the spring camps and goes through the May evaluation period. And he's excited to see what the future brings. "Ever since I was little I've had that dream of going and playing D1 ball," he said when asked how he is going to go about the recruiting process. "If they offer me they obviously want me, so if they still want me there's still going to be an offer there on Signing Day in February. I don't feel like there's any need to commit early. It's going to be the next four years of my life. I'm going to make 100 percent sure it's the right place before I commit. I plan on taking all five of my official visits and I plan on seeing all these colleges and doing more research. I'm making sure I fit in and I'm not making any big moves at the moment."
Has Bolton thought at all about an early commitment? "Washington is one of my top schools, so that's been going through my head ever since they offered - but I know the right thing to do is sit it out and make sure my choice is the right choice," he said. "I don't want to be that guy that commits and then realizes I messed up. That makes it look bad on me. So I'm 100 percent waiting to make sure I make the right choice in a college."