‘An all-around big moment for us’ — Bolden cousins compete against each other in MAC title game


DETROIT — One of the topics of conversation around the family dinner table at Thanksgiving wasn’t a surprise to Luke Bolden. It was almost a guarantee that it’d be brought up.

After all, the spotlight was soon going to be on him and his cousin Daniel Bolden in a little more than a week’s time.

“I tried to convince grandma to get tickets from me instead of Dan,” Luke laughed. “We have to change the juju around a bit.”

“Yeah, he was joking about that leading up to this past weekend,” Daniel chimed in. “Luke said, ‘You can’t go on Dan’s tickets again, grandma. You can’t sit on his side.’”

Luke is a special teams and blocking back bruiser at Miami University, while Daniel is a stout linebacker for the University of Toledo.

They were both Colerain High School football standouts, and they both enjoyed growing up together with a similar friend base.

“We hung out every day,” said Daniel, who has persevered through two season-ending injuries each of the previous two years — which allowed him to retain his junior status.

“We were just afraid we weren’t going to be able to play against each other in college. We never had the chance to hit each other before because we both played defense.”

The two cousins got their opportunity back on Oct. 21, and the Rockets came out on top 21-17 at Yager Stadium — the first game on the gridiron between Miami and Toledo since 2011.

“We always check the schedule when it comes out. We hadn’t played Toledo in forever,” said Luke, a super senior who got an extra year of eligibility due to COVID. “Then boom. This was it. All you’d hear from our family and friends is, ‘I need tickets. I need tickets. Tickets, tickets, tickets.’

“But they got the best of us in Week 8,” Luke added. “We knew that if we wanted to get another shot at them, it would have been in the championship.”

And it happened, in the Mid-American Conference Championship.

Luke Bolden and his RedHawks — the East division champs — got their chance to avenge the earlier defeat to Daniel Bolden and his Rockets — the West champs — this past Saturday in the 2023 MAC title game.

Toledo’s Daniel Bolden (31) lines up against Miami’s Luke Bolden (47) during the Mid-American Conference Championship Game on Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit. PHOTO BY JIMMY VOGT

The entire Bolden family was able to make the trek from the Greater Cincinnati area to Ford Field in Detroit.

“I understand that this wasn’t easy. This was tough — with a lot of emotions,” said Tom Bolden, Luke’s father. “Deep in the back of your mind you know that your college career is eventually coming to an end, and you’re getting ready to go up against family.

“You’re excited to see what your son can do, and you’re excited to see what your nephew will do. But we’re excited for Miami football who we’ve been with for all these years.”

“To look out on the field and to see your son who you love dearly and to see your nephew who you love dearly competing at something they both love, it’s special,” Daniel Bolden’s father, Dan, said before joking. “I don’t know where they get that from.”

Dan is an assistant coach at Lakota West High School, which is led by Tom, Dan’s brother.

Tom was the head coach at Colerain, where he had assistance from his brother and mentored both Luke and Daniel. The Cardinals relished in plenty of success because of the Bolden family football legacy.

“Bolden’s are everywhere,” Luke smiled. “They were all over Detroit.”

“Obviously you wanted your nephew to do well,” Tom added in. “But I want Luke Bolden and the Miami RedHawks to do much better in a game like this.”

On Saturday, the RedHawks were better. They beat the Rockets 23-14.

And as the Bolden cousins lined up across from one another at Ford Field, they gave their family members a memorable one to watch from the stands.

“After some plays, I’m nudging him, and we’re making eye contact all day long,” Daniel said. “To be able to do that, it’s really special to me. And I know it’s been really special for my family to see that twice this year. It was an all-around big moment for us.”

“Playing against him has been special because it runs in our blood,” Luke chipped in. “With him being on defense, and me being on offense — for us to have the chance to hit.”

The two recalled hitting each other just one time on Saturday.

“That’s just how the plays panned out,” said Daniel, who had five tackles.

“I remember at one point we headbutted each other,” Luke said. “I had to take a step back because we didn’t want the refs to think we were fighting. They don’t know that we’re cousins. We had to be careful so nothing stupid happens.”

But one play in particular stood out the most.

Luke broke free from a long pass block, and Miami quarterback Aveon Smith scrambled to his right. Luke was wide open down the sideline, and that’s when Smith hit him on a 40-yard pass — just Luke’s fourth career reception.

“He text me right after the game and said, “I can’t believe we let your slow-butt catch that,” Luke chuckled. “I just sent back a bunch of laughing emojis.

“After the game, we went up to each other, and we were talking about how proud we were,” Luke added. “Not many people go on to play Division I college football, let alone two people who share the same blood playing against each other.

“It was just awesome. It was a great experience. Playing against him at the highest level in the MAC at Ford Field in front of thousands of people, with all of our family here.

“It doesn’t get any better than that.”

For the Bolden family, nothing was better than that on Saturday.

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