Among the high number of transfers from the FBS and JUCO ranks that have helped Southern Miss return to glory in 2015, senior nose tackle Andrew Bolton has to be the most rarely noticed star of that group.
The senior was expected to make a difference on the defensive line of the Kansas Jayhawks during his senior season. A defensive line that was thin and needed all the help they could get was excited about the potential of Bolton.
The Mississippi native fought through injuries during the 2014 season with the Jayhawks, finally hoping to stay healthy and produce on the FBS level. Even with a number of injuries, Bolton recorded 16 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss from his defensive line position. He was projected to be a starter and possible all conference performer for the Big 12 program.
Alas, Andrew Bolton left Kansas during the summer and decided to transfer closer to home to play for Southern Miss during his final year of college football.
The 304 pound lineman took his talents to Hattiesburg, making a splash as one of two 300+ pound defensive linemen that transferred to the Golden Eagles. The other was Oklahoma transfer Quincy Russell. Bolton has not only helped depth on a defensive line that was looking to replace Rakeem Nunez-Roches, but has also become a significant contributor and full time starter on a team that improved by six wins this season.
The senior has 30 tackles on the season, second highest among USM defensive linemen, to go along with three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Only Dylan Bradley (41/11.5/6.5) has better defensive numbers on the year than Bolton.
With a player of his size and at his position, it is hard to completely judge his impact on statistics alone. His massive size has allowed the Southern Miss linebackers an chance to run in open space and make tackles, rather than immediately fight off oncoming blockers. Just by holding the line in the middle, he can singlehandedly change the way an offense blocks a play.
At the recent Southern Miss Senior Send-Off Sunday, head coach Todd Monken presented Bolton with the defensive Austin Davis Newcomer of the Year Award. The newcomer awards were presented to the best newcomers on offense, defense, and special teams for Southern Miss. Tight end Taylor Marini and kicker Stephen Brauchle won the other two newcomer awards.
The Bolton native, yes Andrew Bolton is from Bolton, Mississippi, has been able to play just under two hours from his hometown this season for Southern Miss. While not explicitly stated during his transfer, it was believed that playing closer to home was one of the major reasons for joining the Golden Eagles.
Due in large part to his excellent play, Bolton's senior season will end in the postseason for the first time at the FBS level. The Golden Eagles will not find out their bowl destination until they play for the Conference USA title versus Western Kentucky.
Between his size and excellent play this season, Bolton may even earn him an invite to an NFL camp and end up as the fourth Southern Miss defensive player in four years to make an NFL roster. Time will tell how his professional career goes, but Bolton will forever be an important part of the turnaround of Southern Miss.