Isaiah Bolden took a ‘as soon as in a lifetime’ probability to play for Deion Sanders. It led him to the Patriots.


“I believed in his mission and believed in his targets,” Bolden mentioned. “He had a blueprint for me …”

Patriots rookie cornerback Isaiah Bolden.
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe
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Round three years in the past, Isaiah Bolden took a telephone name that modified the trajectory of his soccer profession.

Deion Sanders, the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame cornerback who had simply been employed as Jackson State’s head soccer coach on the time, was on the opposite line.

Bolden was coming off of his redshirt-freshman season at Sanders’s alma mater, Florida State. He performed in 13 video games and made one begin that season.

However, the FSU teaching employees needed him to make a place change.

“On the time, I actually needed to play nook as a substitute of receiver,” Bolden mentioned. “That was just about actually it. I simply wager on myself. Coach [Mike] Norvell and his employees, they needed me to play receiver and so they’re nice guys. They’re rising proper now, however I simply wager on myself.”

So, he determined to switch to Jackson State and be taught the cornerback place from Sanders, probably the greatest gamers to ever do it.

“I believed in his mission and believed in his targets,” Bolden mentioned. “He had a blueprint for me once I was within the [transfer] portal and we talked for a few hours. I made a decision to affix his mission and placed on for HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities]. That was an enormous factor for me.”

Taking part in for Prime Time

Sanders’s message resonated, not simply with Bolden, however with various highly-ranked prospects.

In response to 247Sports, Jackson State’s 2021 recruiting class completed within the top-60 nationally, forward of a number of FBS faculties together with Arizona State, TCU, and Wake Forest. The next yr, in 2022, Sanders landed five-star cornerback Travis Hunter, who was the No. 1 general prospect within the nation.

These sorts of outcomes are unprecedented at an FCS college within the trendy period.

“You’re speaking about one of many biggest gamers, if not the best participant to ever placed on pads and play the sport of soccer in [Sanders],” mentioned T.C. Taylor, who was promoted to Jackson State head coach after Sanders left for Colorado. “If I’m a defensive again, there’s nobody I’d reasonably be coached by, and be taught the methods of the commerce of the place from, than Deion Sanders … “

“Anytime you’ve a chance to play for Coach Prime, particularly within the secondary, that probability solely comes as soon as in a lifetime,” mentioned Taylor.

Bolden spent his time at Jackson State absorbing information from Sanders.

“He molded me into a professional and he’s uncooked,” Bolden mentioned. “He’s going to inform you how he feels and what he sees in you and there’s no sugarcoating it. He’s simply making an attempt to get you ready for the subsequent stage.”

Isaiah Bolden #23 of the Jackson State Tigers breaks up a pass during the second half of the game against Tyler Kirkwood #80 of the Southern University Jaguars in the SWAC Championship at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi.
Isaiah Bolden (No. 23) of the Jackson State Tigers breaks up a move in the course of the second half of the sport towards Tyler Kirkwood (No. 80) of the Southern College Jaguars within the SWAC Championship at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi. 

Bolden averaged 36.9 yards per kick return in 2021, which led all the nation amongst gamers at each FBS and FCS faculties. His two kick return touchdowns tied for the FCS lead.

And, as a 6-foot-2, 205-pound cornerback who ran a hand-timed 4.31 within the 40-yard sprint at Jackson State’s Professional Day, he confirmed a mixture of measurement, size, and pace.

The Patriots chosen Bolden within the seventh-round of the 2023 NFL Draft, making him the one participant from an HBCU taken this yr.

Sanders blasted the NFL on the time, tweeting that he was “ashamed” to see so few HBCU gamers chosen and that he thought Bolden ought to have been drafted a lot increased.

“It’s sort of a bit of chip [on my shoulder],” Bolden mentioned. “I’ve received a whole lot of consideration for HBCUs on me proper now, and I’ve sort of received that mentality of: ‘I’ve received to placed on for HBCUs. Some individuals look down on HBCUs and I’ve to maintain transferring ahead daily and simply hold working.”

A brand new chapter in a wealthy historical past

Whereas there’s been a wrestle to get publicity and prime recruits over the previous few a long time, Jackson State has been producing NFL expertise lengthy earlier than Sanders ever stepped foot on campus.

JSU had a pair of first-round picks (Sylvester Morris and Rashard Anderson) within the 2000 NFL Draft. The Tigers even have 4 Professional Soccer Corridor-of-Famers, together with legendary working again Walter Payton. Seven-time Professional Bowler Jackie Slater, the daddy of Patriots’ particular groups ace Matthew Slater, is one in every of them.

“It’s nice to see HBCUs getting the eye that I believe they deserve,” Matthew Slater mentioned.” There’s a lot wealthy historical past there. You take a look at the trajectory of these faculties and it’s unhappy now that they don’t get the gamers that they used to get. I perceive why that’s the case, however these faculties imply a lot to our neighborhood. They imply a lot to our historical past.

“It’s nice that they’re beginning to get the eye that they deserve, clearly it’s nice having Isaiah right here,” Slater continued. “I do know for those who requested my dad and mom, they wouldn’t be who they’re with out that faculty. So lots of our household family and friends have been there and to different HBCUs. They play such a pivotal position in who we’re as a individuals and our previous. I believe it’s nice to rejoice.”

Taylor, who’s now teaching at his alma mater, was in an analogous place to Bolden 20 years in the past. He joined the Patriots as an undrafted free-agent receiver in 2002 and spent a couple of months on the observe squad.

Regardless of its soccer historical past, there have been fairly a couple of individuals in Foxborough who had by no means heard of Jackson State.

“I can keep in mind coming into camp and I needed to inform quite a few individuals the place Jackson State was positioned,” Taylor mentioned. “Individuals across the metropolis have been asking me: HBCU, what’s that? The place is that positioned? I by no means heard of that faculty. Nicely, I’m going to make you keep in mind primarily based on my efficiency on the sector.”

Bolden has an analogous strategy now as he goes by coaching camp with the Patriots.

“It feels good,” Bolden mentioned. “I’m blissful for the chance, and just about getting my confidence up. Lots of people suppose I shouldn’t be on this stage. I say in any other case.”