Watch List linebacker Joe Bolden (Cincinnati/Colerain) is a product of his environment.
A 6-foot-3, 230-pound hitting machine, Bolden comes from a family that loves football. His father, Dan, played at Colerain in the early '80s and later at Hanover College before getting into coaching and eventually becoming the athletic director at Colerain.
His uncle, Tom, is the current head coach of the Colerain program.
Joe has been a part of the Colerain program since he was little. He was a water boy in elementary school and the ball boy during middle school. He was one of the few freshmen to ever wear a varsity jersey for the program. He described it as "a feeling he would never have again."
It's no surprise Bolden is one of the top defensive players in Ohio and has over 20 offers on the table right now. The schools that are interested range from Arizona to Tennessee to Syracuse to North Carolina and meet at all points in between.
"I feel blessed to have all these opportunities and it's due to having great people involved in my life on and off the field," Bolden said. "The coaches I've had from elementary school on up are great guys and men of character. My family has been so supportive with everything I do and I have the greatest teammates anyone can ask for."
Bolden has hit the recruiting trail running so far during the offseason while balancing his time playing baseball. In the last week Bolden took visits to Kentucky and Cincinnati and left both places impressed with what he saw.
"I like what Coach [Butch] Jones is doing at Cincinnati; he has that program back on track," Bolden said. "I feel the same way about Coach [Joker] Phillips at Kentucky. He has a clear vision of where the program is headed and how he wants to run things."
One program that has stood out in the early going for Bolden is Michigan. The Wolverines' defense has struggled over the last few seasons, but the opportunity to play early is a draw. Bolden has also spent time developing a strong relationship with new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
"I'm probably a Michigan lean right now, I really like everything Michigan has to offer," Bolden said. "I like the coaches, and the academics are tremendous there. Coach Mattison is installing a new defense; it's a lot of the stuff that he did with Florida and the Baltimore Ravens. It's a good fit for me as a [middle] linebacker. Coach looked at me and said I had a pretty good chance of playing my freshman year if I worked my butt off."
Bolden's also looking heavily at North Carolina and Tennessee and everywhere else that has shown interest in him.
"To me distance is not a factor," said Bolden. "It would be great to go to college five minutes from my house and have my whole family be there. It's not a necessity. My parents and my grandparents and my family have all told me that they will be wherever I play, wherever I fit in and wherever the chemistry is good with the coaches."
An honors student, Bolden said academics are No. 1 in his search and then the football aspect.
One school that hasn't offered is Ohio State. At one point, there appeared to be some mutual interest, but circumstances changed.
"My uncle, the head coach, talked to OSU and they are looking for more [weak side] linebackers," Bolden said. "I'm a [middle] linebacker and will be in college. I have no hard feelings. If you don't fit in one place, you will fit in somewhere else. I believe God closes some doors and opens others."
If it sounds like Bolden is taking a mature, positive approach to recruiting, it's because that's how he lives his life.
"You have to appreciate the opportunities that are presented," said Bolden. "It's easy to get angry or get bitter with this process, but I'm appreciative of the schools that looked at me and thought enough of me to extend an offer."
On the field, Bolden can be a difference-maker. He recorded nearly 100 tackles and four sacks as a junior. He also forced two fumbles and recovered two more.
As the middle linebacker, he takes pride in being the quarterback of the defense and a team leader.
Off the field, Bolden goes from high intensity to low key in a matter of minutes. He considers the perfect Saturday to be one he can order a few pizzas with his friends and watch the primetime college football game.
He is part of a close-knit family. He sees his grandparents every week and his great-grandmother lives close by. Sundays are for church and family dinners. Colerain football is an extension of his family.
He started in the weight program when he was in seventh grade and played quarterback and linebacker throughout middle school. It was his quarterbacking ability that opened the door to earning a spot on the varsity team as a freshman.
"Unfortunately the quarterback on the JV [junior varsity] squad was injured, so I moved up from freshman football to be the JV quarterback," Bolden said. "And when he came back, they kept me at JV and just played me wherever they needed me."
The JV players also made up the Colerain varsity scout team, and it was there that he began his ascension.
"That week we were playing McKeesport (Pa.), and I guess I was running hard during the week on the scout team and they moved me to defense and let me play linebacker," Bolden said. "That is really where it started. There's nothing like Friday night at Colerain stadium and walking on the field as a freshman. It was a lot to take in."
His on-field influences range from Tim Tebow to Colt McCoy to Ray Lewis.
"I'm not really a quarterback, I probably never was," Bolden said. "But the way Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy played college football and the passion they brought to the field had a great effect on me. But what really touched me the most was the way they handled themselves off the field with their Christian beliefs. I'm a Christian. I go to church with my family every Sunday. And to see guys who could do anything they want and choose to do the right things, it's very inspiring. And I just love to watch Ray Lewis play the game. He will hit you. He's a different person on the field then off the field, and his style of play just relates to me."
Bolden has put no timetable on his recruiting. He said he is going to try to visit Tennessee in the spring, as long as baseball doesn't get in the way.
"I would like to get down there and see the program," Bolden said. "And there are several more I want to look at. I think I've been given this opportunity to see everything and meet some of the best coaches in the nation and I want to take advantage of it."
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.