03/12/24 – Georgia Football Spring Practice

KJ Bolden held a commitment to Florida State for over four months. All the while, as a senior at Buford, he’d appear at Tom Riden Stadium on Friday nights in a pair of Bulldog gloves. A small piece of garb served as a sign.

Bolden had his options open. His hometown Georgia Bulldogs were prominently in the race.

Bolden, in his last round of campus visits, took a trip to Tallahassee, Fla. on Dec. 15, 2023. He told Florida State reporters that he had already received his paperwork from the university and prepared to sign it. Five days later, on Early Signing Day, Bolden showed up to his ceremony in a red bowtie. He gave another indication.

Georgia, head coach Kirby Smart, former defensive backs coach Fran Brown (now head coach at Syracuse) and director of recruiting David Cooper landed the coveted five-star safety on a flipped commitment. Bolden filed his national letter-of-intent a matter of moments later.

“I knew everybody would probably realize when I had the bowtie on,” Bolden told GPB Sports at his ceremony. It served as his last media opportunity until his sophomore season as Smart doesn’t allow freshman players to speak with reporters. “… This recruiting process was probably the hardest thing I had to deal with. I can’t wait to go make plays for the Dawgs and put on for the home state.”

Bolden enrolled at Georgia shortly thereafter on Jan. 8. He entered the program at an ideal time for the Bulldogs after they lost star safety Javon Bullard. He entered the program as a five-star prospect and the No. 1-ranked safety nationally, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.

In the ever-changing age of players receiving money for name, image and likeness (NIL) along with the transfer portal, high school commitments don’t hold the same weight as they might’ve in previous years. Therefore, Georgia never stopped pursuing Bolden despite his pledge to another program.

” I don’t see kids as committed to other places, because they’re not. They’re not signed,” Smart said during spring practice. “I just know that we recruit good football players. We evaluate every player the same whether they’re committed or not. If there’s interest and conversation from them, and there’s visits where they come to your campus, you just stay very consistent. We were consistent with KJ, the recruitment never stopped.”

Bolden is the most-prominent Buford athlete to appear in a Georgia uniform since tight end Isaac Nauta, who later transferred to IMG Academy after a phenom-like freshman season for the Wolves.

Bolden received endorsements from his teammates and Smart throughout spring practice. He could receive significant playing time alongside standout junior safety Malaki Starks. Smart said the freshman is “instinctive,” but warns against the expectation that Bolden will “light the world on fire” as first-year players due to the Bulldogs’ depth and veteran pieces in the defensive backfield.

“He does the small things that young players usually don’t do,” Buford head coach Bryant Appling told The North Gwinnett Voice. “His athleticism makes up for any mistakes he might make, but he’s not much out of position at all. He knows what’s coming before it comes.

“The way he prepares will give him a chance to make an impact early on.”

Georgia, instead, carries the expectation that Bolden will be an important piece on special teams. Bolden, in the G-Day spring game that ended in a 20-20 tie on April 13, recorded four tackles (leading the category for the Red team) and two snaps at punt returner (neither of which were returned).

“He’s very athletic and very smart,” Starks said of Bolden. “He’s like a sponge. He just wants to soak up all the knowledge and information. You see him in meetings, he’s writing stuff down. That shocked me the most.”

Added safety Dan Jackson, a North Hall graduate: “I’m just trying to get the point across to him to keep his head down and stay hungry. He’s shown all of us so far that he’s ready to work and that he can contribute.”

Bolden hung up his green-and-gold jersey for the final time last winter. He strapped on the red-and-black for the first time Saturday, and the Bulldogs hope its the first of Bolden’s many productive moments for the program.

Throughout the recruiting process, however, Smart made something clear. Nothing about Bolden changes at the next level.

“They told me to go down there and be KJ Bolden,” Bolden told GPB.

FEATURED PHOTO: Courtesy of Tony Walsh — University of Georgia Athletic Association (UGAAA)

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