Ole Miss junior running back Brandon Bolden knows an opportunity when he sees one.
More importantly, he knows what it takes to capitalize on that opportunity.
Hard work. Confidence. Sacrifice.
And an undying commitment to the weight room.
Really, ever since last season ended, Bolden has been on a mission. The departure of Dexter McCluster left a huge void in the Rebels’ offensive backfield, and it’s a void Bolden plans on filling.
“Brandon’s one of those guys who’s always saying, ‘I can do more. What else do you have for me?’” said Don Decker, Ole Miss’ head strength and conditioning coach. “He just has that attitude, work ethic and spirit about him that says, ‘There’s nothing you can do that’s going to break me.’
“Some guys might be limping through the workout or just trying to get through, but Brandon is going to be the first to finish it and he’s going to do it at a high level.”
Bolden, who played in McCluster's shadow last season, has been the Rebels’ resident Workout Warrior.
He’s attacked the weight room the way he would an oncoming linebacker at the goal line.
“When you play in this league, you better come in with the mindset that you can take on somebody twice your size,” Bolden said. “The way you do that is get in that weight room and stay in that weight room.”
In Bolden’s case, he’s actually dropped weight.
The Rebels had him playing a little different role last season once McCluster got rolling, and Bolden bulked up to 225 pounds and even flirted with 230 just prior to the Cotton Bowl.
“I was too big and felt like I wasn’t as fast as I was when I got here,” Bolden said. “I knew that had to change, and I knew what it was going to take to change it.”
By the time the Rebels started offseason workouts, Bolden had gotten down to 216 pounds. He played in the Rebels’ spring game at 212 and hopes to play next season right around 210.
And the best part?
He’s gotten a lot stronger and is running as fast as he was when he came to Ole Miss as a freshman.
Ironically, Bolden is from Baton Rouge, La., but said the only interest LSU showed in him out of high school was as a safety. Bolden is quick to note that he’s never lost to the Tigers and wears his Ole Miss colors proudly whenever he goes home.
When he goes against LSU for a third time in the fall, it will be the most physically equipped version of Bolden that the Tigers have seen.
“He’s so lean now and really rocked up and looks like a tailback should look,” Decker said. “When I see a guy and maybe he’s a little soft and doesn’t have that real hard look to him, I always ask him what it would feel like if he had to do a vertical jump while carrying a five-pound weight. If you don’t think it makes a difference, the next time you line up to run a 40-yard dash, put on a five-pound vest and run.
“What Brandon did was strip away that extra 12 or 13 pounds, while improving his strength and remaining as powerful as ever.”
Just recently, Bolden recorded a 39-inch vertical jump. He’s squatting 500 pounds, maxing out at 350 pounds on the bench-press and was second on the team to Enrique Davis with a 335-pound power clean. Davis did 340 on the power clean.
Bolden also did 19 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench-press. He was lucky to get to 12 reps when he first arrived.
“I can feel that extra step now in everything I do,” said Bolden, who rushed for 614 yards and four touchdowns last season while also catching 20 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ve always been focused, but this is the most focused I’ve ever been. I know what I have to do and know I have some very big shoes to fill. I know this team needs me. We’re going to have a young team on offense, and I embrace that role as a leader and want that role. It’s something you’ve got to do every day, and I’m going to do my part to lead us to the top.”