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Bernard Bolden, as Defensive Player of the Year, is the Hit Machine

With Dion Bland no longer around, Bernard Bolden knew the change was coming.

One year after making the move to cornerback, the Merced junior returned to his natural position at free safety.

Bolden welcomed the change.

"I was looking forward to it," Bolden said. "I watched Dion come up and punish a lot of guys last year.

"I wanted to do that. It looked fun."

By the amount of helmets he sent flying and the bodies he deposited on the ground, Bolden definitely enjoyed himself.

After finishing with 63 tackles and four interceptions, Bolden was named the Central California Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

He's also the Sun-Star Football Defensive Player of the Year.

"We felt moving Bernard to safety was our best opportunity to get all of our best athletes on the field at the same time," Merced coach Rob Scheidt said.

"With the void left with Dion graduating, we didn't know if we'd have the same type of impact guy like Dion was.

"We felt that Bernard was all that and even more, with his ability to drop back and play center field and come up in run support."

The move to safety didn't take long to pay off.

Merced's secondary faced one of its toughest challenges in its opener against Los Angeles Crenshaw -- and the receiver duo of Kemonte Bateman and Clint Floyd.

Both receivers have verbally committed to Arizona State.

Bolden finished with two interceptions that night, including one in the final minute to preserve the 21-14 win.

The next week against Madera, Bolden intercepted two more passes -- returning one for a touchdown -- in a 50-0 win.

After the quick start, Bolden soon realized teams had stopped throwing his way.

"I kind of noticed that," Bolden said. "I knew it would happen so I was preparing for it.

"That's when the hits started coming."

Bolden quickly made a name for himself as a physical presence.

"I thought he was the best defensive football player in the league," Los Banos coach Dennis Stubbs said.

"When you watched him, he's always going full speed. I never saw him loafing on film.

"That's what you try to get out of every play. He's obviously one of the hardest hitters."

Bolden's hits appeared to get more violent in the playoffs.

In the first round against Modesto Grace Davis, he whacked a receiver so hard that his opponent's helmet almost ended up on the running track.

"I'll never forget that one," Bolden said. "The next week against St. Mary's, I had another one.

"I punted the ball and then caught the guy on the sideline. I think I broke his helmet, too."

Bolden knows he can turn games around with a big hit.

"It's very exciting," he said. "It gets my teammates excited. Then we start clicking.

"It's like pressing an 'on' button."

As this past season went on, Bolden found himself on the field more and more.

Injuries forced Bolden to also play running back, receiver and punter to go along with his kickoff and punt return duties.

"Yeah, I got tired," Bolden said. "That's why Eddie Beavers played more on defense -- to kind of take some of the pressure off.

"But I love being on the field."

Bolden is just starting to attract interest from some big-time colleges.

Connecticut, UCLA, Wake Forest, Washington and Oregon have all sent him letters.

The only question might concern Bolden's best position in college.

"If Bernard can take care of the business in the classroom -- where he's done a really good job the last two semesters -- he's going to get a lot of attention," Scheidt said.

In the meantime, Bolden can expect to see plenty of time at different positions for Merced next year.

"I'm ready to play wherever they need me," he said.

Bolden has already proved he's not afraid of change.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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