Boldens cherishing last run together with unbeaten Lakota West

WEST CHESTER Twp. -- Mitch Bolden remembers when his dad told him he was leaving Colerain after 21 years to become the football coach at Lakota West High School. He knew it would be a big change, but the young quarterback was making the switch from junior high to ninth grade anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Four years later as a senior, Mitch Bolden and Firebirds coach Tom Bolden are soaking up every last minute of their time on the gridiron together and enjoying what they’ve helped build together.

West had suffered three straight losing seasons before Tom Bolden took charge, but on Friday, the Boldens will lead the unbeaten Firebirds (13-0) into their third straight regional championship with an eye on the program’s first Final Four. To get there, they will have to beat Moeller (12-1), who halted their run in this same game last year.

The teams meet in Region 4 championship rematch Friday at Princeton’s Jake Sweeney Automotive Stadium.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Mitch Bolden, who took over as the team’s starting quarterback midway through his freshman year in 2019. “He’s been my coach my whole life and taught me everything, and this is our last year together, so it’s a little sad but we want to make the best out of his last run with one of his sons. There’s some pressure that comes with that, but I’ve embraced it, and it’s really been special what we’ve been able to do together. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but we still have goals to accomplish.”

Mitch Bolden is the youngest of Tom Bolden’s four sons. Jake is the oldest, Kyle was a linebacker at the University of Cincinnati, and Luke is currently a tight end at Miami. But, Tom Bolden also has coached nephews and there has been a family member in his programs, either at Colerain or West, for the past 15 years.

That makes these last games with Mitch that much more special.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“Obviously, I’m a proud father and a proud coach, but it’s been special these last four years,” Tom Bolden said. “The senior class and him, this is the group I came in with. I always tell people, the neatest thing is football will lend itself to a lot of great memories and coaching football will lend to a lot of great memories, but when you can coach family, when you can coach your own children, you cherish every moment of it because there’s so much that goes to it. I mean, you get to spend so much time with them. I get to see (Mitch) during the school day, I get to see him at practice and I know at times he’s probably sick of me, but these are memories that he and I, and he and his teammates, have made the last four years that will last forever.”

Mitch Bolden, a dual-threat quarterback, has come a long way since an injury forced him into the starting lineup four games into his high school career. West won seven games that year, made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, and he’s been a part of three Greater Miami Conference titles since then.

The GMC’s top passer has thrown for 2,532 yards and 28 touchdowns with six interceptions this season while adding 675 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

“Just his leadership has been unbelievable,” said Tom Bolden, who played quarterback as well. “He’s just been so steadfast for the rest of the offense and the rest of the team, and he’s done a great job, but his game has elevated so much. I mean, he’s the dual-threat kid. He can run it. He’s a powerful runner. He’s fast. He’s got great vision when he runs it. But his throwing and all that, I mean, he’s done some high-level stuff in terms of some our route concepts are very complex. There’s three, four wide receivers in it, sometimes five, and he can get to the third and fourth progression pretty darn quick. So that’s made him really special and tough to defend.”

Moeller’s defense will be a tough test. The Crusaders are led by linebacker Joe Ginnetti (Air Force Academy commit), defensive lineman Brandon Martin, who has 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss, and defensive backs Conlan Daniel and Matthew Seliga, who each have four interceptions.

Mitch Bolden was one of the best players on the field in last year’s regional championship, throwing for almost 200 yards and adding another 88 yards rushing, including a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, but West let the game slip away in the final period. Moeller scored the game-winning touchdown with 11 minutes left, and the Firebirds couldn’t recover in a 21-17 loss.

The Firebirds had fumbled inside their own 5-yard line to set up Moeller’s first touchdown, they dropped two big passes and had a bad snap late in the game when they were driving.

“We felt like last year we let the game slip out of our hands,” Mitch Bolden said. “It left a bitter taste in our mouths, but we learned from our mistakes, and we’re excited for a chance to play them again. We just have to take advantage of every opportunity we get.”

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