Slade Bolden to 'fill in fine' for Jaylen Waddle in Alabama football's slot receiver position

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

West Monroe High School was winning state championships with an I-formation veer offense for decades. The ball rarely hit the air; while it was on the ground, the fullback was often the most dangerous weapon.

Then Slade Bolden showed up.

Bolden was the caliber of athlete who flipped a well-established offensive reputation on its head. West Monroe, thanks to Bolden’s individual excellence, didn't miss a beat.

He'll be asked to do the same for No. 2 Alabama (5-0)  after star receiver Jaylen Waddle suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Tennessee. The Crimson Tide play at Mississippi State (1-3) on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN).

“We wanted to evolve offensively anyway, then there just happened to be Slade,” said West Monroe offensive coordinator Glenn Hunt. “His freshman year, we have a 7-on-7 tournament and this kid is just going off at receiver. We tell out coach right then, ‘We have to move this kid up to varsity.’”

In the beginning, Bolden was someone the Rebels used everywhere: he would at times spend a series at quarterback a series at running back and a series at wide receiver, all one after the other. At one point he started to take hold at quarterback, at which point West Monroe started to live with inside zone reads and power reads — similar to the concepts Bolden operated as a Wildcat quarterback for UA last season.

“Wherever you put him at, he was going to be the best. We put him at defensive back, kick and punt returner,” Hunt said. “We always had a good athlete at quarterback, but we never had one like Slade.”

Alabama wide receiver Slade Bolden (18) runs the ball as Tennessee defensive back Jaylen McCollough (22) and Tennessee linebacker Henry To'o To'o (11)  defend during a game between Alabama and Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

Through that production, UA saw a slot receiver in the making.

“Slade's really quick. A lot of guys like Slade become very effective slot kind of players because they're quick out of a break,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “They've got good initial quickness, really good hands, very smart and heady in terms of their instincts and their ability to make quick decisions. That's something that fit well for him. I know he played quarterback, he played all over the place in high school. But he's done a good job. He did a good job in the game, and he's one the guys that I was referring to when I said a lot of the guys had to step up.”

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The early returns on that decision are not enough to act on — he had four catches last year, spending most of his time as a Wildcat quarterback — and had no receptions entering the Tennessee game. His six catches for 94 yards against the Volunteers began to validate the decision.

“That’s where he belongs. He’s a tough matchup for a safety, he’s so quick,” Hunt said.

Few, if any, are able to do exactly what Waddle did: double as the best kick returner in the country and the SEC’s leading receiver. Saban is not placing expectations on Bolden relative to what Waddle did before him, but such expectations may not bother him.

“I hate what happened to Waddle, but Slade Bolden is going to fill in fine for Alabama,” Hunt said. “They’re going to fall in love with Slade Bolden: his charisma, personality and work ethic, it’s unmatched.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson