10 things to know about Missouri star LB Nick Bolton
It’s hard to be under the radar as an All-SEC linebacker, but Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton might fit the bill. Mizzou star Cale Garrett went down for the year at midseason, but Bolton stepped up to finish second in the SEC in tackles as a sophomore, leading Mizzou to allowing just 19.4 points per game in 2019. Just in case Bolton is sneaking up on everybody, here are 10 things to know about him:
1. He’ll dominate your book club
One of the random facts about Bolton is that in his youth, his school had a points-based reading reward system. Let’s just say Nick Bolton was the reading equivalent of Steve Spurrier, with the way that he ran up the points on his classmates.
2. He learned from his dad …
Bolton never had to look far for tips about playing linebacker. His father, Carlos, played at Louisiana Tech from 1989-1993, and taught Bolton the study habits that have resulted in multiple coaches praising his work ethic and understanding of football concepts.
3. But he plays for his sister
When Bolton was 9 years old, his sister, Jazmine Dunn, was an outstanding high school athlete, contemplating a future as a college athlete in basketball and/or softball… until she was sidelined by a brain tumor. Dunn survived, but she sustained a visual disability that prevented her from playing. Young Nick decided he’d play sports for his sister.
4. He was headed to Washington…
Bolton was a late addition to Missouri’s 2018 class, but first, in mid-2017, he committed to Washington. After some misunderstandings with Chris Petersen’s staff, he decommitted in October and made visits to Mizzou and Kansas shortly before signing day. Bolton, a 3-star recruit, was outside of the top 1,000 players in the class, per 247sports, which placed him in the middle of Mizzou’s class, which was ranked 13th in the SEC.
5. Pass-snagging skills
Sure, he’s a linebacker, but don’t think that Bolton has bad hands. In fact, it was his performance against West Virginia early in 2019 that announced him as a force to be reckoned with. Bolton grabbed 2 interceptions, taking 1 back to the house, making him the first Mizzou player to pull off that 2-for since 2008.
6. PFF loves this guy
Every analyst or website has favorites, but Pro Football Focus has a relative man-crush on Bolton, ranking his run-stopping skills among the best in the SEC and calling him “criminally underrated” as well as a likely first-round NFL Draft pick in 2021.
7. About that run-stopping …
It’s not like PFF is exactly missing the point on Bolton. Take a look at this hit on Jauan Jennings, and see if you don’t see an All-American caliber edge-setting backer.
8. Warrior on the road, tougher when behind
There’s a couple of odd quirks in Bolton’s stats. For one, he’s a better player on the road than at home (averaged 10.8 tackles per game on the road vs. 7.6 per game at home in 2019). For another, he was better in Mizzou’s losses than its victories (10.2 tackles per game in losses, 7.7 per game in wins).
9. Bucked the trend for 2020
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, when various players were announcing their decision to opt out for the 2020 season, Bolton was one of the first names highlighted as a player who might decide to opt out. After all, he’s a sure-fire NFL prospect, and Mizzou, with a new coach, doesn’t figure to be a factor in the SEC East race. But Bolton never hesitated, saying he never really considered opting out on the season.
10. Leader of defensive improvement?
In 2017, the year before Bolton hit campus, Missouri gave up 31.8 points per game. In his freshman year, 2018, with Bolton playing as a backup, the Tigers allowed 25.5 per game. Last season, it dropped to 19.4 points per game. If Bolton can lead Mizzou to another year of improvement, it’d be the first time the Tigers had improved over each year of a 4-year span since 2012-2015, the run that included the Tigers’ 2 SEC East titles.