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Nick Bolton: The Chiefs' Defensive Heartbeat

Bolton is entering his third season in the NFL as one of the league's best defensive players

It's a rarity to see a player emerge with such dominance following just his second year in the league. However, for Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton, this has become a reality. Entering his third season with the Chiefs this year, the standout linebacker wears the No. 32 jersey not just for its appearance, but as a symbol of family and legacy.

Let's take a closer look at Bolton's quick ascent to NFL success.

From Rookie to Record-Breaker

Bolton was a force to be reckoned with from the moment he stepped onto an NFL field. During his debut season, he dominated the game, leading the Chiefs' defense with an astounding 112 total tackles. Of those, he solo tackled opponents 70 times, with assistance on the other 42.

But it wasn't until the 2022 season that Bolton fully solidified his spot among the league's top players. Not only did he rank second in the league with 180 tackles, but he also etched his name into the Chiefs' record books with the most tackles in a single season in team history. Even so, he routinely displayed his dominance, as he crossed the double-digit tackle mark in nine different games in a singular season – a feat no Chief had accomplished before.

Nevertheless, it was during his debut season, against the Denver Broncos, when Bolton demonstrated his raw talent and instinct, converting a fumble into an 86-yard touchdown sprint. This was more than just another touchdown; it was the fourth-longest fumble return in franchise history, as well as Bolton's first career fumble recovery and defensive touchdown. It was the type of play that said it all: Nick Bolton had arrived, and he was here to stay.

Super Bowl LVII

When the high stakes of Super Bowl LVII rolled around, Bolton was ready to write his name into the annals of NFL history. As the Chiefs grappled with a deficit against the Eagles, Bolton took matters into his own hands. Seizing the moment, he returned a fumble for 36 yards, tying the game, 14-14. As a result, Bolton became the first Mizzou Tiger to score in the Super Bowl.

Emerging as a Leader

The influence Bolton wields both on the gridiron and in the locker room is undeniable. His commitment is not only to the game but to the men who stand beside him on the field. When questioned about his responsibility for the defense, Bolton didn't hesitate.

"Yeah, for sure," he affirmed. "I make the calls, I make the checks for getting guys lined up, [I'm responsible for the] energy being there, [that we're playing] assignment sound – the whole nine. So, when we're not lined up or not playing well, I take it kind of personal."

It's one thing to earn accolades and break records; it's another to earn the unwavering respect of your peers. Before the high-stakes playoff games kicked off in 2022, his teammates elected him to the role of defensive team captain. It wasn't just on-field grit that earned him a spotlight; his debut season was also highlighted by individual achievements including the Mack Lee Hill Award – which is given to the Chiefs' best first-year player – AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month honors, and selection to the PFWA All-Rookie Team.

During last Tuesday's press conference, Head Coach Andy Reid expressed his appreciation for the young linebacker.

"I like his leadership," Reid said. "Last year, I thought he played at an All-Pro level."

Such high praise from a figure like Reid speaks volumes to Bolton's expanding place in the league.

A Jersey Number Steeped in Meaning

For many players, a jersey number might be a simple digit, but for Bolton, it has a special meaning. The selection of No. 32 was not random. Bolton shared the following on Tuesday:

"32 is [the combination of] my sister's favorite two numbers," Bolton said. "Three and two."

This connection also dates all the way back to safety Tyrann Mathieu's time with the Chiefs, when Mathieu wore the number. Bolton expressed his respect for the number, saying, "I kind of felt like [Mathieu] represented it the right way, [and with] how much he cared about sports, passion-wise, he carried [the number] in a great manner."

It wasn't just about picking a jersey number; it was also about carrying on its legacy, and as proof of the deep ties that the game fosters, when Bolton had the chance to wear No. 32, it came with a heartfelt note from Mathieu when the two players swapped jerseys following the preseason opener.

"It was great to have that opportunity, and the note he left on the back of it was special," Bolton shared. "I know this stuff is a little bit bigger than football, so it's special for me, for sure."

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton (32) with safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) after the preseason week one NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, August 13, 2023 in New Orleans.

Cultivating Tomorrow's Chiefs

As the team evolves and younger players come to the forefront, Bolton seems more than ready to usher in this new era of Chiefs football. When questioned about the Chiefs' younger players, Bolton's words echoed with pride and optimism.

"Those guys came in and they picked up what we did in terms of energy [and] intensity," Bolton said during Tuesday's press conference. "I'm excited for these young guys. "We're going to keep going, [and] keep getting a little better."

Bolton's current trajectory entails that he isn't just playing for the present. He's also building, leading, and setting the tone for the Chiefs' defensive future.