Caleb Bolen will flip the personality switch because he has to. And it’s fun.
The Madison High School junior offensive guard is quick to smile when he’s not in uniform, but when he throws on his football jersey, he undergoes a bit of a transformation.
“Different person on the field … got to turn it off and on,” Bolen said. “You’ve got to be mean. You’ve got to want it more than anyone else.”
He earned a first-team position on the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association All-Southwest District team and is a key figure in a first-ever playoff run that has the Mohawks two wins away from the Division V state championship.
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WEEK 12: Madison 35, CHCA 27
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Madison (11-2) will meet Wheelersburg (13-0) in a state semifinal Friday night at Chillicothe.
“I’ve been playing football here since the second grade, so I’ve been here for the whole ride,” Bolen said. “This has been everyone’s dream in this town for as long as I can remember. We were always a very strong class and had a lot of confidence, but I never thought it would feel this good.
“Our mind-set is 100 percent winning. Why not us? That’s what it is. No one better.”
Madison’s offensive linemen are the road graders for a Wing-T offense that is averaging 364.5 rushing yards per game. The Mohawks have completed one pass in the postseason.
Bolen is listed at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds. He said he’s closer to 270.
Madison coach Steve Poff called Bolen the best offensive lineman he’s ever coached.
“You wouldn’t know that by looking at him sitting in a chair,” Poff said. “But his physicality and his intelligence are tremendous. He takes a lot of pride in what he does, and he’s extremely intelligent as far as adjusting things on the fly.
“The multiple blocking schemes that we have … he sorts a lot of that out on his own. He understands them and believes in them. Maybe you don’t see it on film or you don’t see it from the stands, but he’s making a lot of decisions out there.”
Bolen missed a sizable chunk of his freshman season with a broken foot and played right tackle last year.
Why the switch to guard this season?
“In the past, we always went with smaller, a little more mobile guards,” Poff said. “This year, we decided to go with some smaller, quicker tackles and bigger guards.”
Quickness is always a relative term when it comes to O-linemen, but everybody on Madison’s line can move. Bolen and senior left guard Stephen Watts (6-3, 240) have to pull quite a bit.
Senior tackle Steven Ward (6-2, 240) is on the right side with Bolen, and junior Noah Banks (6-0, 200) is the left tackle. Senior R.J. Borgman (5-10, 225) plays center.
“A lot of the guys I’ve coached in the past that I’ve held under very high praise couldn’t start on this offensive line,” Poff said. “It’s just their sheer intelligence and ability to move people. You don’t run the way we run and not be skilled up front.”
Bolen said an emphasis on offseason agility work has paid off for the O-linemen. He prefers playing guard because he gets a chance to pull and “block the little dudes out in space.”
Asked to describe himself as a lineman, Bolen replied, “Big. Somewhat mobile. Enjoys hitting. Always looking for that big hit right at the end of the whistle.”
He has no problem with the anonymity that often comes with playing on the offensive line. Headlines aren’t his motivation.
“I’m just an O-lineman, and I love it,” Bolen said. “Forget the defense. I’m on my side, and I’m going to make sure it’s good. It’s fun playing physical all the time.”
Junior fullback Cameron Svarda has a school-record 1,891 yards and 26 touchdowns on 212 carries. When Svarda is vocal about that record belonging to the line as much as him, that’s gold to Bolen.
“The support you get from your team and the coaches, that’s all I need,” he said.
Bolen said he started to believe Madison was capable of this kind of postseason surge after the Mohawks beat Carlisle 31-14 in Week 7.
He admitted the team was angry after starting 1-2. The 27-13 loss to Monroe — which would finish 1-9 — was particularly aggravating.
“We knew Monroe shouldn’t have been on the field with us, and they came out and beat us up. They got us good,” Bolen said. “Then we played Valley View so tough for a half, and then you look at that score (32-7) and it’s just awful. We felt we deserved more than we got and that was our goal, to get more, to get ours.”
Individually, he’s still working to improve his game.
“I definitely have to have better pad level and be a little bit more explosive off the ball,” Bolen said. “That first step is crucial.”
Team-wise, he believes the Mohawks will be ready for Wheelersburg, which has outscored its opponents 558-104 this season.
“We know they’re physical, fast,” Bolen said. “They’re a mean team. They’ve been killing teams through the playoffs, and we’re going to go out and see what they’ve got.”
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