Doubt crept in for Slade Bolden. Alabama's wide receiver questioned internally whether or not he would ever truly win it all.
He's come close many times.
In 2015, Bolden was knocked out of the Class 5A State Championship Game against Landry-Walker after he took a hard hit near the sidelines.
And in 2017, Bolden and the West Monroe Rebels baseball team saw a 28-game win streak snapped in the Class 5A State Championship Game against Central.
In the years that followed, Bolden contributed much less than he did in high school but grew to become a valuable member of Alabama’s programs. Before redshirting in 2018, Bolden saw his first collegiate action against Louisville in the season opener. The Crimson Tide ended that season with a head-scratching 44-16 loss to Clemson in the 2019 National Championship Game.
During the 2019 season, Alabama suffered losses to rivals LSU and Auburn. Naturally, Bolden had one question after the season, "What's the deal?"
“High school, we always had a team that was a win away,” Bolden said. “We had three years there where we should have won it, and definitely my junior year in baseball, we should have won. I remember there was a point and time then where I was like, ‘Am I going to ever win the last game? Is this just how it’s going to be?’ Even freshman and sophomore year here, we had two great teams and still came up short.”
That doubt turned into motivation for Bolden last offseason before a perfect 2020 football season that culminated in a 52-24 victory against Ohio State in the 2021 National Championship Game.
“It was just a long time coming,” Bolden said. “And not just all of that other stuff, but all the things that we went through with COVID and the extra practices. The extended fall camp and doing all that. To have a tough schedule with All-SEC play and facing those great teams in the playoffs, it just made it all worth it, you know?”
Bolden even got to catch his first collegiate touchdown pass in the win against the Buckeyes too. Bolden caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Mac Jones late in the third quarter to give the Crimson Tide a 45-24 lead. Bolden came across in motion, got an angle on Buckeye corner Shaun Wade, who followed him over, before bullying his way into the end zone for the score. After getting the signal from the official, Jones lifted Bolden high in the air as the two embraced.
“That was definitely one of my favorite moments of my life for sure,” Bolden said. “It was just like winning. It’s just been such a long time coming. I thought I should have scored a couple times in the season but I just wasn’t able to. And finally when it mattered most, I was able to get in. I feel like my teammates were happier than I was. And that’s always a good sign.”
The former Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year combined for 270 yards and a score on 24 catches last season to go along with 49 yards on seven punt returns. Bolden has played in 27 games during his Crimson Tide career and is projected to start at wide receiver for the Crimson Tide this fall.
As part of the “Ryde Outs,” which is a term used to describe the work ethic of this receiving corps, Bolden now looks to continue a proud legacy of being an Alabama receiver. After playing with first-round draft picks Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith over the last two seasons, Bolden hopes he and fellow veteran receiver John Metchie III can show the younger players what it means to be an Alabama wideout.
“We hold ourselves to a different standard just like the whole team does,” Bolden said. “We talk about it amongst ourselves. We expect each other to play at a different level.”
Bolden has grown both physically and mentally during his time at Alabama. He said he’s seen his body change a lot over the past few years, and he feels he’ll be at his absolute fastest in 2021. He’s also learned how to self motivate, constantly finding something to work at.
Since capturing the ever-elusive championship, Bolden is finding other ways to motivate himself this offseason. One thing Bolden has his sights set on is a repeat.
“There’s always going to be another thing you can’t do,” Bolden said. “Most people don’t think I’ll make it to the league. Or most people don’t think I’ll highly contribute to this team. There are a lot of things that still motivate me. They said I’d never play. I did. They said I’d never start. I did. People will always find new ways to cut you down. I’m setting my goals high for this season, and that obviously involves winning another national championship.”