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Bolden boosts Boilermakers' run game

9/7/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue cornerback Brandon King got a sneak preview of Ralph Bolden's breakaway speed during a practice last month.

"He hit a play, he was coming through the A gap," King said, "and man, that was the fastest I've ever seen Ralph run. He's going to be exciting this year. We, on defense, we get to see it all."

The Boilermakers' practices in the spring and summer are generally closed to the public, so Bolden's brilliance was reserved for his teammates' eyes only. He put up ridiculous numbers during spring ball and didn't miss a beat in preseason camp to win the team's starting running back job.

Finally, the rest of the world got to see what Bolden could do on the field, and he didn't disappoint. The 5-9, 194-pound sophomore racked up 234 rushing yards -- the third highest single-game total in team history -- and two touchdowns on only 21 carries (11.2 ypc) in Saturday's win against Toledo. He sprinted 78 yards for a touchdown on Purdue's third play from scrimmage, saying later, "I saw grass. I just ran."

Bolden's effort in his first career start earned him Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"I was like, 'Wow. Somebody probably gave me extra yards,'" Bolden told reporters of his reaction to seeing his final rushing total. "I'm speechless."

Bolden played as a true freshman in 2008 and had 16 rushes for 28 yards in eight games, but he wasn't fully recovered from a severe knee injury he suffered toward the end of his high school career. The pain disappeared by spring ball, and Bolden surged for 420 yards and four touchdowns in three spring scrimmages plus the spring game.

"Coming off the knee injury and everything, it gave me a lot of confidence, allowed me to do what I thought I could do coming out of high school," Bolden told me last month. "I've been able to carry it over."

Purdue's running backs were the talk of the preseason, the group everyone pegged to make the biggest jump this fall. Senior Jaycen Taylor returned to form after missing all of 2008 with a torn ACL, while Frank Halliburton and Dan Dierking impressed the coaches and heralded freshman Al-Terek McBurse got in some work before being slowed by injuries.

But Bolden stood out from the pack.

"Top end speed separates him in some ways," head coach Danny Hope said. "Right now on our football team, speed is something that we would like to get on the field and have more of it, and Ralph is fast. There were many, many times throughout the course of camp things were bottled up and shut down and he was able to stick his foot in the ground and bounce outside and run off the distance to the end zone."

Bolden is no longer a practice prodigy. He showed Saturday that he's just as dynamic when it matters.