Millbrook’s Bolden signs to play football at Division-I Toledo
WINCHESTER — A.J. Bolden has a lot of history with Buffalo, N.Y., but the type of future he can see himself having in Toledo, Ohio, was just too good to pass up.
Bolden, a Millbrook senior offensive guard, signed his National Letter of Intent to play football on a full scholarship this fall at the University of Toledo during a ceremony held Wednesday morning on football’s national signing day outside Casey Gymnasium at Millbrook High School.
Bolden moved to Winchester three years ago after spending his entire life in Buffalo, and he gave a verbal commitment to attend the University of Buffalo, a Division I Mid-American Conference school, in August.
But in October, Bolden announced that he would instead go to fellow MAC school Toledo. And judging by the huge smile that actually managed to overshadow his huge frame (6-foot-4, 295 pounds) while being congratulated by about 100 family, friends, faculty, coaches and teammates, it was clear that Bolden couldn’t feel better about his choice.
“I’m overjoyed. Overwhelmed,” said Bolden while sporting a Toledo baseball cap, a few minutes after signing his paperwork while his uncle, Russ, a Millbrook football assistant coach, and father Alan (A.J.’s initials stand for Alan Jr.) looked on. “Just the support of the whole school, and some of the community, coming and getting a chance to see me sign my letter of intent and see where I’m going to college, and knowing that they’re going to follow me and give me support throughout college, I’m just ecstatic.
“It just seemed like [Toledo] did everything right. When I went up there on the official visit, I felt comfortable up there. My family also felt it would be a better move for me. But ultimately it was my decision. It’s where I felt the most comfortable and where I would fit in the most. It’s where I could see myself fitting in for the next five years of my life.”
Bolden — the first Millbrook player to sign with a Football Bowl Subdivision program — is part of a Toledo recruiting class that is ranked No. 1 in the MAC by the scout.com and rivals.com.
When Bolden — who was also offered full scholarships from MAC schools Ohio, Bowling Green and Kent State — committed to Buffalo, he had yet to visit the Toledo campus.
Bolden made an official visit there on the weekend of Sept. 15 to see Toledo take on Bowling Green, a game that Toledo won 27-15. That was the second of eight straight wins for the Rockets (9-4, 6-2 MAC), but even a loss probably wouldn’t have dampened Bolden’s enthusiasm for Toledo.
“It’s a rivalry game, and it was packed in,” said Bolden of the Battle of I-75 trophy game, which was attended by 28,115 people, nearly 2,000 more than the Glass Bowl’s capacity. “It was so packed that we had to move down onto the field, so I was standing out there on the 30-yard line with all the recruits. Looking at the game, it was crazy.”
Bolden said he got to spend time with the players afterward and with the coaching staff the following day, and he came away impressed with them, as well as the school’s academics and the city of Toledo as a whole.
Bolden also enjoyed the fact that the coaching staff, particularly offensive line coach Tom Manning, made him feel wanted.
“Every time I talked to him, he was ecstatic,” said Bolden, who received numerous visits from Manning in Winchester. “It seemed like he was filled with joy, and he wanted me the most. Some coaches would call and say, ‘Hey A.J., we want you down here,’ but he really made me feel like he wanted to coach me.”
Bolden feels like he’ll be a good fit for Toledo, which has proven to be one of the nation’s better offenses the last two years. In 2011, Toledo ranked eighth nationally in scoring offense (42.2 points per game) under offensive coordinator Tom Campbell, and in Campbell’s first year as the Rockets’ head coach in 2012, Toledo averaged 445.2 yards and 31.5 points per game.
Bolden said Toledo likes to run a spread offense that is quick to the line and is up-tempo, which is something he’s used to at Millbrook. The Pioneers would frequently use a hurry-up attack to get more plays and possessions for their powerful offense, which averaged 368.5 yards and 30.3 points, tops among area teams.
This year, Bolden also thought he played well at guard — which he will play in college — after moving over from tackle. Bolden was named to the Group AA all-state first team by the Virginia High School Coaches Association in addition to being named first team All-Region II and All-Northwestern District this year.
“I love guard,” Bolden said. “It’s about being mean, nasty and dirty down in the trenches, just moving people, pulling and hitting people, and that’s what I enjoy the most. I like to go out and make collisions with everybody.”
“The special thing about A.J. is that athletically, he can play any position — tackle, guard, center,” said Reed Prosser, who will take over as the head coach for Heritage (Leesburg) next season after spending the previous seven seasons as Millbrook’s head coach. ‘He’s really a tremendous athlete, and schematically, he mixes real well with what they’re asking a lot of their players to do, which is be athletic and be physical.”
Manning said in a phone interview that Bolden’s athleticism and flexibility in the hips should serve him well at Toledo.
“I’ve watched all his game film, and with offensive lineman, you can tell within five to 10 plays how good they are,” Manning said. “He works hard, and I think he’ll really be a good fit here.”
Bolden said improvements can always be made though, and he’d like to continue to get stronger.
But for Bolden to get to this point shows just how far he’s come as a player.
“Him being dedicated to the weight room has been the main thing,” Russ Bolden said. “Getting up at 4:30 in the morning, going to Gold’s Gym, going to school, then working out with the team, then coming back home and still working and doing drills, he was just determined to make that transition to play guard.”
Bolden showed that same type of dedication in coming back from an appendectomy this season.
It was originally thought Bolden would only miss two weeks because of it, but some complications from internal bleeding raised the possibility that he might miss the rest of the season.
But Bolden returned after four weeks for the game against Handley on Oct. 26.
“He didn’t get down,” Russ Bolden said. “He just said, ‘I’m going to come back, I’m going to come back, I’m going to come back.’ He showed a lot of character, not just for himself, but for his team. That’s all he talked about, was helping his team win and get in the playoffs.
“That right there [is an example] of the character I tried to instill in A.J., of just being determined, and do it for others, and not be an individual star. That was a bright spot for me.”
Prosser said it was rewarding to see Bolden transform himself academically, physically and socially over the last three years, and Bolden can’t wait to grow even more.
Bolden said he appreciates everything that’s been done by his father, his uncle and aunt since moving in with them three years ago, and Prosser, Millbrook Principal Carrie Butler, and the rest of the Millbrook staff.
“I’m glad to be a Rocket,” Bolden said. “I’m proud of it and proud of my decision.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1