Missouri’s ask of then true freshman linebacker Nick Bolton could not have been much higher.
Jump into the starting defense in the middle of the game to replace weakside linebacker and team captain Terez Hall. Oh, and by the way, do all of this in front of a Bryant-Denny Stadium homecoming crowd on national television, lined up across from Alabama, the defending national champions.
Got it, kid?
Despite the daunting task, Bolton did anything but make a fool of himself. He finished with eight total tackles in Missouri’s loss this past October, third most for any player on either team. Missouri couldn’t have asked for much better from Bolton after Hall was ejected for targeting.
And now, with Hall having used up his college eligibility and pursuing an NFL career, the Tigers will ask Bolton to replace Hall again.
Bolton is expected to start at weakside linebacker, the spot Hall left vacant. That was the case at the start of the spring and is the case now at the end. Bolton entered the spring holding the top spot on the depth chart, and with Missouri’s spring game Saturday putting a cap on spring practices, he has not done anything to lose that top spot.
He heads into the summer having left a strong impression on teammates and coaches.
“He has stepped in and maybe exceeded what I thought he would do this spring,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “He’s got a chance to be a special player.”
On Saturday, he tied to lead the starting defense with three total tackles, the first of which came when he stuffed a Gold runner at the line of scrimmage on the first defensive play for the Black team. He might have very well led all defenders in tackles if not for the Gold defense logging twice as many snaps as the Black defense.
Either way, it was the finishing touch on an overall strong spring for Bolton, who did not speak to reporters after the spring game.
For Bolton, his success stems from his intelligence. It’s easy to see on the field, his teammates will tell you. Bolton can usually call out what the offense is about to do, linebacker Cale Garrett said. Offensive tackle Yasir Durant knows this all too well, having faced Bolton throughout practices.
“He diagnoses plays better than anybody I have seen,” Durant said.
It follows the theme of what Garrett described as Bolton’s overall I.Q. that extends past the football field. Bolton usually speaks on something only when he knows what he is talking about and that he is not wrong.
“He’s not a BSer,” Garrett said.
Bolton doesn’t mess around in the classroom either. Odom said he thinks that Bolton, who is an undeclared business or accountancy major, has all As.
“He is a lot like a number of other guys I have talked about … just dependable,” Odom said. “He cares about being really good and he works at it. He spends extra time. He’s a competitor.”
Competitive and dependable, whether it’s the spring game or homecoming at Alabama. Bolton is ready, whenever and wherever.
“I think he is going to be a real big weapon for us,” Durant said.