October 29, 2012 8:41:45 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Cody Bolton only thought he knew what challenge he faced.
With leading rusher Anthony Sharp sidelined with a concussion, Bolton figured he would ply a key role in the Victory Christian football team's attempt to beat Tuscaloosa Christian in the first round of the Christian Football Association playoffs.
Little did Bolton realize his job was going to get a little more demanding.
Three days prior to the game, Bolton arrived at school to discover teammate Sean Meadows, who was in position to play in the backfield with him, suffered a concussion Monday in a junior varsity game. Bolton was left to throw his arms to the side as if to ask what could happen next.
Bolton responded with a game-changing effort that signaled his breakthrough. The sophomore running back rushed for 319 yards and scored six touchdowns, had 18 tackles (10 solo), handled the punting duties, and didn't leave the field in a 52-42 loss.
For his accomplishments, Bolton is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"I knew I could do it and that we were going to have to execute the blocking," Bolton said. "Once I heard about Sean, I was like, 'Two concussions? Really?' I definitely knew it was going to be tougher then."
A week after Sharp gained 203 yards on 32 carries in a 41-22 loss to Tuscaloosa Christian, Bolton had 32 carries and scored on runs of 65, 54, 42, 23, 6, and 39 yards. He scored three of his touchdowns in the first quarter to help the Eagles (3-6) take a 21-20 lead.
Coach Chris Hamm said Victory Christian went to a tight formation and drove the ball right at Tuscaloosa Christian. When the Warriors adjusted their defense, Hamm said the Eagles were able to use their speed and get to the corner. Unfortunately, he said Victory Christian couldn't capitalize on enough of its opportunities, particularly in the passing game, to keep its season alive.
Still, Hamm was pleased with how Bolton and the rest of the Eagles responded with their season on the line.
"I hope it is going to give Cody confidence that he can be that kind of back every game," Hamm said. "I hope we will be able to use Anthony more as a receiver."
Bolton praised the blocking of ends Michael Elliott and Roy Boden, running backs Hunter Austin and Joshua Foxworthy, and offensive linemen Shane Bradford, Brandon Shaw, and Bo McCrary. He said he surprised himself with his career-high rushing evening. The performance helped Bolton finish the season with 69 carries for 648 yards and 16 touchdowns (nine rushing, five receiving) for a team-high 100 points.
"I was kind of nervous at first because I knew it was a big load I had to carry," Bolton said. "I knew they could make the plays if we executed. ... I had no idea I was going to run for that many (yards)."
The 5-foot-9, 143-pounder may not have the prototypical size of featured backs. But Hamm said Bolton gained confidence Friday night he hopes will carry over to next season. He said Bolton could prove to be an explosive combination next season when Sharp returns to health. Hamm said he knew the Saturday after the first loss to Tuscaloosa Christian the team would be without Sharp. His thoughts immediately turned to Bolton and Meadows as a double-barreled tandem. Meadows' injury pushed Bolton into a lead role.
"I had complete confidence in Cody's ability to run," Hamm said. "Even in the game where Anthony played quarterback, we went with more of a tight, spread thing. Cody ran the ball hard and made it difficult on them. I didn't have any doubt he was going to run hard."
Hamm didn't expect Bolton to rush for more 300 yards, but he believed the team could have success with Bolton shouldering such a big load.
Bolton said he was proud of the way the team played without key personnel. He said a couple of missed opportunities prevented it from extending its season and advancing to play Tabernacle for the CFA title.
In addition to his accomplishments on offense and defense, Bolton also punted five times for 151 yards. As impressive as the statistics are, Hamm said Bolton's attitude and approach to the game are even more impressive, which made his performance even more special. After the game, Hamm was impressed that Bolton led the traditional 120-yard sprint the Eagles do at the end of every game.
"That is the way it always has been," Hamm said. "Cody is one of the most coachable guys I have ever coached. He always is 'yes sir.' He always listens. He always tries to do what we tell him to do.
"That type of night, he could have been tired and dragging in the back. We didn't have practice, so I couldn't take it out on him until the spring, but he was leading the pack.
"I think it took having two of our main players not able to play for the rest of the team instead of waiting on somebody else to make a play, it made everybody step up. That is really the lesson I hope carries over to next season. ... The more people shouldering the load, the lighter the load will be. On Friday, we didn't have anybody else to look to. Cody said, 'It was me.' The line said, 'It was me.' I think the lesson was learned."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.