Just four games into Montana State's 2005 football season, head coach Mike Kramer moved senior All-America guard Jeff Bolton to center.
For Wood River High School graduate Bolton and the Bobcats, the move couldn't have worked out better.
Bolton earned the ultimate honor at his position Feb. 7 when he was named the 2005 Rimington Award winner as Division I-AA's top center. Bolton was first-team All-Big Sky and consensus All-America at center in 2005, as well.
While nothing Bolton did on the field surprised Bobcat offensive line coach Jason McEndoo, the honors did.
"He's one of a kind," said McEndoo, a former All-Pac 10 (at Washington State) and NFL offensive lineman. "I don't know of any other offensive lineman who can start only seven games in his career at a position and earn this type of award. This is a pretty phenomenal award, and Jeff is a pretty phenomenal player."
Bolton said the award is special because of its namesake. "Dave Rimington was such a great player," Bolton said from Indianapolis, where he trains for April's NFL Draft. "He revolutionized the center position. He's one of the greatest players in NFL history, so this is an awesome honor."
Bolton's mercurial rise to the top of that position, which he calls his "favorite position to play," engenders similar respect. "Jeff's work ethic and body type makes him a player that can have success at the next level," McEndoo said.
A native of Florida, Bolton's family moved to Hailey, Idaho when he was in high school.
Former Bobcat assistant coach Butch Damberger recruited Bolton on a tip from John Blackman, his coach at Wood River High and a former Bobcat teammate of Damberger's. Bolton played as a true freshman, and started for Montana State as a sophomore.
As a junior Bolton started all 11 games, but did so in a manner that defined his career as a Bobcat. He spent the first six games of the season at right tackle, started game seven at left guard, moved back to right tackle for two games, and then started the last two at left tackle. During his career, Bolton started games at every position on the offensive line.
"Jeff is a team-first guy," Kramer said, "and has been since the day he joined our program. He never wanted to know what was in it for him, he wanted to know how he could help the team. He is a warrior who played through injuries. Jeff will always have my full respect."
Bolton earned All-Big Sky and second-team All-America honors after his junior season, which served as a prelude to one of the fine individual seasons in Bobcat history. As a senior, Bolton started the first four games at guard, then moved to center in response to injuries on the offensive line. In his seven starts he helped lead the Bobcats to a 5-2 Big Sky record and a share of the Big Sky Conference title.
In his Bobcat finale, Bolton and one of the greatest group of seniors in school history led MSU's offense to a tremendously efficient performance in a 16-6 championship-clinching win over the Grizzlies. The 'Cats rushed for a conference season-high 199 yards, controlling the ball on the ground for much of the second half in the convincing victory.