In today’s world of sports, headlines are dominated by the flare and glamour of superstars. In fact, the world of sports has always heavily revolved around the exciting, show-stopping, and most entertaining athletes, whom we sports fanatics grew up idolizing. For me, it was the stellar play of Kobe Bryant and his unrelenting will to win. It wasn’t Phil Jackson, the founder of the triangle offense and mastermind behind two of basketball’s greatest players to ever step on the court in Michael Jordan and Bryant. Jackson’s mind was the driving force of these guy’s success, that’s not to say those two wouldn’t have been great without him, but with his understanding and their raw ability, championships came.
For the Louisville football team, the player who is idolized, watched in awe, and impersonated in backyards across the city, state, and nation, is Lamar Jackson. The mastermind behind the curtain of Jackson’s success? Fellow quarterback, Kyle Bolin.
Bolin hails from Lexington. He came to the University of Louisville in 2013, after a very successful high school career at Lexington Catholic. He was redshirted his freshman season and fought for playing time with Will Gardner and Reggie Bonnafon throughout his redshirt-freshman season. Gardner went down with a knee injury during the season and Bonnafon blossomed, leaving Bolin in the back-up role. In the 2014 Battle for the Governor’s Cup, Louisville started slowly and a Bonnafon injury allowed Bolin his chance. He took advantage by leading the Cardinals to a 44-40 comeback victory over rival Kentucky airing the ball out to a tune of 21-31 for 381 yards and 3 touchdowns. He saw the moment and made it his.
Entering his sophomore season, Louisville had a quarterback controversy. Bolin, Bonnafon and a new guy named Lamar Jackson. Bonnafon exited the QB conversation after the first game against Auburn. But, it was Lamar, not Bolin who received the starting nod in the 2nd game against Houston. Lamar would hand over the starting role after that game and Bolin would go on to start against visiting Clemson. This trend went back and forth all the way up until the same game Bolin made himself known in the year before, the Battle for the Governor’s Cup.
Bolin would start the game, but Lamar would replace him in the 2nd quarter and much like Bolin a year earlier, Lamar led the team to a comeback victory in Lexington. Lamar would start the bowl game and put the QB conversation to rest by becoming only the 3rd QB ever to rush and pass for 200 yards in a bowl game (Vince Young and Johnny Manziel).
Entering his Junior season, Bolin had a decision to make. It was no secret Lamar was the guy going forward for the Louisville football program and Bolin had to choose whether he’d be willing to play the back-up role or transfer out. Lamar has all the talent and ability he could possibly need, but he couldn’t understand the playbook enough to fully reach his potential. This is where Bolin stepped into his Phil Jackson role. No he wasn’t a coach, and no he wasn’t calling the plays, but he studied with Lamar until he knew Lamar understood the playbook front-to-back.
Understand this, without Bolin’s 100% commitment to the team first mentality by teaching Lamar and humbly moving behind the scenes, there is no Heisman. Lamar doesn’t have the season he had, not because he isn’t gifted, but because Bolin made him a better student of the game. Because of that Lamar was able to outsmart defenses, read zones, decide when to run vs when to pass, and go through his progressions, rather than look at his first option then pass or take off upfield depending on if his man was open or not. Being a gifted athlete is merely half the battle to greatness, being a dedicated student to the game is what so many potentially great players lack and that is the reason why we have so many “what could have been” situations.
Thanks to Kyle Bolin, Lamar will not be one of those unfortunate situations. Thanks to Kyle Bolin, the University of Louisville has its first ever Heisman winner. When Bolin’s playing days come to an end, he wants to pursue coaching and there is no doubt that he already has the credentials to start a career in that spectrum of the sports world. Lamar has mentioned how much help Bolin was/is, and now he’s mentoring another up and coming Louisville QB, Jawon Pass.
Thank you, Kyle Bolin, for putting the team first, sticking around, and for always bringing optimism, leadership, and the desire to win. This will be Bolin’s last season in a Cardinal uniform, but it will not be the last time we see him on the sidelines of a football game.<