OXFORD, Miss. - He was the forgotten signee of the 2008 recruiting class, overshadowed by a U.S. Army All-American from Texas and the nation's top-ranked prep school prospect.
But it was Brandon Bolden who arrived on campus early, got acclimated to the Ole Miss offense and made the most impact in the 2008 season.
Now, Bolden is focused on taking a bigger role in Ole Miss' offense as well as helping the Rebels reach their first SEC Championship Game.
"This team could be real special," Bolden said recently. "We had a very special group last year and we're going to have a real special group this year."
As a freshman, Bolden rushed 98 times for 542 yards and five touchdowns. He added 10 receptions for 106 yards and another score. He was a part-time quarterback in the "Wild Rebel" formation, throwing a 37-yard pass to Jevan Snead in a win against Memphis. He also returned seven kickoffs. Still, Bolden goes into the start of spring drills next week competing for time in a crowded Rebels backfield that includes Cordera Eason, Enrique Davis, Devin Thomas and possibly Dexter McCluster.
"I surprised myself a lot [last season]," Bolden said. "Coming in, people were talking about Enrique and Devin and mine just wasn't a mentioned name. It surprised me a lot. When I got my first touchdown, they said I didn't celebrate with the team at all. I just ran off the field. I was excited.
"Everybody's showing out right now. It's spring. That's probably the best time to show off. I expect it to be real competitive, especially with the guys coming in. People are trying to get that spot."
The Baton Rouge, La., native heads into spring drills still carrying 218 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. However, he said his body has changed.
"I want to have my body more compact," Bolden said. "Everybody's just trying to stay healthy. Coach [Houston] Nutt tells us to invest in the spring, so I'm trying to invest and get faster and stronger."
On the field, Bolden is focusing on refining some of the little things that separate a good running back from a great one.
"I still have to work on my pass protection," Bolden said. "I kind of felt like I read the hole pretty decent, but I really have to pick up on my pass protection. The hard part of that is really seeing over the offensive line because they're a lot taller than me.
"I probably will be more vocal because the leadership role is already taken by the seniors. This is a big group of seniors coming out this year."
Along with McCluster, Bolden figures to continue to have a big role in the wildly successful "Wild Rebel" as well.
"We ran it and it seemed everybody was almost ready for it," Bolden said. "A couple of times we snuck it by them. Next year, we'll probably have to play defense against it. It'll be pretty funny to watch us being on the sidelines instead of being out there. You see it in the NFL now. Who wouldn't want to run it, especially with the success it's been having?"
Ole Miss starts spring football practices March 27. The Rebels will practice 14 times in advance of the annual Grove Bowl game on April 18 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.