Bolden happy to be back home at JMU

JMU's A.J. Bolden watches a play unfold during the Dukes' contest against Albany on Sept. 19, 2015. Bolden is one of two starters returning to the offensive line this season for JMU. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — Looking back on things, A.J. Bolden’s move from Buffalo, New York to Winchester was one of the best moves he’s ever made.

The 2012 Millbrook graduate and current redshirt senior at James Madison University moved to Winchester after his freshman year of high school in Buffalo. Bolden said that it wasn’t easy growing up in Buffalo, but he’s glad he went through the experience.

“It’s definitely not the easiest life,” Bolden said. “It’s something I definitely cherished though growing up in those circumstances and those situations. It kind of makes you tougher, makes you want to walk around with a chip on your shoulder. I have a lot of great friends that are doing great things out of the city of Buffalo. It’s not all about escaping the environment but what can you make out of it. I took what the inner city was offering me, and I made something good out of it just like any other person can.”

After his freshman year of high school, Bolden moved in with his uncle Russ Bolden and his wife. Russ Bolden was an assistant coach at Millbrook under then -head coach Reed Prosser.

A.J. Bolden said his uncle played football at Division III Fisher University and Prosser, a Handley graduate, played at William and Mary College.

Bolden said that a big reason he left Buffalo was to have a better opportunity to get noticed by colleges and his uncle and Prosser helped him along the way.

“That definitely set me up to be in a position of success, because both those guys played at the next level,” Bolden said. “So with them both knowing what’s going on. And me just being able to just learn from them and make sure that I’m in the weight room. And my uncle was getting up training me early in the morning. That set me up for success.”

Success did follow as Bolden as would several scholarship offers and he chose to play at the University of Toledo.

He went there for a season, was redshirted and then decided it wasn’t for him.

In the following offseason, he transferred to JMU, and he said the main reason was family.

“Family definitely was most important for me,” Bolden said. “It was tough being up there without no family support. My dad could only get down to one game. My uncle and aunt couldn’t come down to no games — and they raised me. So that for me was kind of tough. I have a girlfriend now in Winchester and she’s been with me even before I had scholarship offers. So for me that’s what it was all about is making sure everybody around me got a chance to be a part of the journey just like I was going through it. Because they’ve always went through it with me.”

Bolden has had plenty of success on JMU’s offensive line. He played in three games as a freshman, before being sidelined due to injury.

His sophomore season, Bolden played in six games. Last year he started all 15 games at left guard to help lead the Dukes to a 14-1 record and the Football Championship Subdivision national title.

Bolden was part of an offensive line that included three seniors last year. One of those seniors, Mitchell Kirsch, is now playing with the Chicago Bears.

Bolden and fellow redshirt senior Aaron Stinnie are the two most experienced players on JMU’s offensive line this season.

“A.J. is a young man who has overcome a lot of adversity in his life,” JMU head coach Mike Houston said. “And he is just a really, really good person, strong character guy. And as personable as anybody you’ll meet. And he’s a really steady, solid performer for us on the offensive line. So we have high expectations for he and Aaron both to kind of lead that unit this year.”

Bolden said winning the national championship was a dream come true for him, but he said what made it the most special was sharing it with his family and JMU’s fans.

“For us it was so surreal,” Bolden said. “Seeing the confetti fly, seeing your family in the stands. My girlfriend came down from Winchester, Virginia my coaches came down. My family was streaming it from home. Getting back to my phone and seeing the text messages from my dad, my uncle, my aunts, my friends back at home. It was so crazy, it was non-stop. And then our great fan base.

“…They’ve been with us from day 1 riding the whole time. And we definitely appreciate the whole JMU Nation as a whole.”

For this season, which starts at East Carolina University on Sept. 2, Bolden said it’s important to keep things simple and not look too far ahead.

“For me, really I just want to take it game after game,” Bolden said. “And the same thing with the team. I just want us to take it game after game after game. So we can be at our top performance week in, week out. That’s all I can really ask for.”