Curtis Bolton Takes Place at Heart of OU Defense
by Chris Plank
When the Oklahoma defense took the field to kick off the 2018 season, fans saw a much different look than they did last year. The Sooners had to replace half of their starting unit.
But the new look is not only about personnel. It’s also about attitude, intensity, and a good example of that new mindset is redshirt senior linebacker Curtis Bolton, one of this season’s surprising key performers.
As the Sooners forced a punt on the first possession against Florida Atlantic’s offense, the crowd roared with approval. The defense struck their first blow and right in the middle of every play was Bolton.
There wasn’t much time to soak in the moment, though, Bolton said.
“College football plays so fast. You take a second and the game goes past you. I just tried to lock it in and pay attention to the coaches and trust what they have taught me throughout the week.’’
To get to this moment, Bolton has overcome a lot, including the loss of his father, who was his first coach and his biggest supporter. He died of cancer during his freshman season of high school.
“That was my superhero. That was my role model. He did a hell of a job when he was here, and it extended into the afterlife,” Bolton has said. “I know he’s looking down on me.”
Despite losing his mentor and rock, Bolton continued to chase his dream of playing football at the highest level.
After enrolling at the University of Oklahoma in 2014, Bolton redshirted. He worked hard to find his place on the depth chart. Finally, an opportunity presented itself during his junior season. After playing mostly on special teams, some spot duty at linebacker and as a specialized pass rusher in previous seasons, Bolton was primed to play a key role for the Sooners in 2017. But, as luck would have it, Bolton injured his ankle and ended up missing most of the 2017 season.
He never gave up, but he did consider that maybe his future would be brighter somewhere else. As a graduate transfer, Bolton could have been immediately eligible to play somewhere other than Oklahoma. But, despite all of the challenges, Bolton remained at Oklahoma.
“I like these coaches and trust my teammates,’’ Bolton said. “I wanted to try to find my place in this great history and do it the best I can.’’
So far, the best he can do is exactly what the Sooner defense has needed. With his sole focus on the season opener, Bolton watched as Lee Morris broke through and blocked a Florida Atlantic punt. As Bolton fell on the ball in the end zone, he became the first to recover a blocked punt for a Sooner touchdown since 2002.
“It’s always great when you end up in the end zone,’’ Bolton said. “It’s not a feeling that I get to experience too often. I just knew something crazy was coming.’’
When the season opener came to a close, Bolton had a team-high six stops, including a tackle for loss. He was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week.
His performance against Florida Atlantic was just the start. Bolton has evolved into one of the team’s leaders, and he has larger goals in sight for his senior season. There is still a long way to go for the Sooners this season, but Bolton’s drive and determination has had an impact on early defensive success.
“A lot of it was just hard work,’’ Bolton said. “It was the way that I was brought up. If I ran from this situation, I would find myself running from other situations in my life. I figured I would man up, and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. And if it does, I was prepared for it.’’
What makes Bolton such a relatable figure is his unfiltered honesty. He is transparent about his faults and honest about who he is.
“Me and coach (Mike) Stoops (have) an interesting relationship,” Bolton said. “In my younger years, I needed a lot of time to mature. I needed a lot of time to build my consistency. I think a lot of times he was frustrated, because he could see what I could become.”
“He’s just in so much of a better place. And maybe having it taken away and having to go through some of those frustrations led him back to being at a good point right now,” Head coach Lincoln Riley said. “He fought his way back. Things just had to shake out right, and he stuck with it. The kid deserves credit for that.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has been a first-hand witness to Bolton’s growth and determination.
“Buzzy continues to be a play maker for us,” Stoops said. “In any defense, you have to have play makers. Buzzy is not scared. We’re playing with more velocity. Curtis gives us that.”
“You want to see all your guys do well,” Stoops said. “We’re as hard on them as anyone, but there is no one that cares about them, maybe outside of their families, more than we do. It’s good to see his hard work paying off.”
Bolton plays with a chip on his shoulder, but it’s not just from a personal perspective. It also resonates from a team perception as well.
“Everyone is just sick and tired of getting disrespected,’’ Bolton said. “We have worked so hard. We came out and put our best foot forward on the field. We wanted to make a statement and show our coaches, fans and the media that we can play good defense and continue that. There are a lot of things that we still need to clean up, but that’s what we practice for Monday through Friday.’’ – BSM