Media Information Director
DPS Office of Athletics
Size, or the lack of it, was the concern last year when Nathaniel Boleware walked in as a 5-5, 145-pound freshman to try out for the East English Village football team.
“He came in talking about “I play running back,’’ Bulldogs coach Rod Oden recalled.
“I asked ‘For who?’ He said “For the Ville. I’m here.”
Boleware may have raised eyebrows that day, but he’s done nothing since but raise expectations.
After finishing his freshman year with 22 touchdowns and more than 1300 yards rushing, Boleware has become the Bulldogs’ self-proclaimed “momentum-changer.”
The sophomore is listed liberally as a 5-7, 165-pounder on the Bulldogs’ roster. But despite his diminutive size, Boleware continues to play much bigger. Last Friday, he rushed 10 times for 105 yards and three touchdowns and added another TD on a 57-yard pass reception and has been named the Detroit Public School League Proud Strong Learner of the Week.
“He’s an athletic kid that’s versatile enough to play the slot (as a receiver) and in the backfield,” Oden said. “He split time last year with Desmond King and he had a great freshman season. He’s having another good year so far. (Against Southeastern) he found some creases and hit them. He was also elusive enough to make a guy miss on a big screen play for us that he took to the house. He’s one of those players that gets stronger with each carry and as the game goes on.”
Boleware had a solid mentor in King, who’s now a freshman starting defensive back at the University of Iowa. “I learned a lot of things from him both on and off the field,” Boleware said. “I learned to be committed, stay dedicated, work hard and keep my grades up and I’ll be going D-1 (in college).”
Oden envisions Boleware’s high school career evolving similarly to that of former King High standout Dennis Norfleet, a sophomore starting kick returner for the University of Michigan.
“Nate’s a three-sport athlete who’s also the starting point guard for the basketball team and a 100-meter dash guy,’’ Oden said. “He’s doing things the right way. He’s what we call a program guy. He came in and played high school ball when he could have gone back and played little league and it’s paying off for him. The game is starting to slow down for him Because he’s a smaller guy, we’re going to kind of pattern him after Dennis Norfleet, another fast guy who has the same physical stature . He’ll play in college but we’re going to find the right fit for him.”
Boleware, who has a 3.2 grade point average, plans to major in engineering and said he hopes to play in the NFL one day.
“If I don’t make it as an NFL player, I want to be an engineer or a sports agent,’’ he said.
Although he competes in other sports, Boleware sees his athletic future in football. “I like the contact,’’ he said. “My mom is really making me play basketball. If I had my choice, I’d stay in football the whole year around.
To better prepare himself for the next level, Boleware plans to step up his efforts to add weight. But he’s pleased just the way he is.
“A lot of coaches say I need to be a little bigger and little faster,’’ he said. “I think my size has been good for me because I’ve been little playing football all my life and I’ve been good all my life.
“I didn’t even know I was going to play in high school. I thought I was going to be too little. My dad thought I was going to be too little. But last year, I came out late and I tried out and I wound up playing the first game. Then I had a breakout second week against King.”
Boleware’s goals for this year are “to become better as a player, get our team deep in the playoffs, win the state championship and get some more college looks,” he said.
After his initial skepticism, Oden said it wasn’t long before he was convinced that Boleware could handle the pounding of running the football.
“He plays the game absent of fear,’’ Oden said. “In practice and in scrimmages, he was our scout team running back and he ran hard against a senior defense. I said if he can run this hard in practice and not flinch, let’s give it to him in a game and see what he can do. He took that thing and he ran with it.
“He calls himself the momentum-changer. That’s the nickname he’s given himself. Every time he makes a play, he kind of looks at me and says ‘Yeah coach, I had to change the momentum.’ He’s doing some dynamic things in terms of kick returns and punt returns, and playing running back. We’re looking forward to watching him continue to grow over the next two years.”
The Detroit Public School League Proud Strong Learner of the Week award is representative of the league’s top boys and girls athletes. The award is presented by the DPS Office of Athletics and sponsored for the fourth year in a row by Detroit-area McDonald’s owner-operators.