As a player, Richie Bolin learned a lot about overcoming obstacles.
He showcased that knowledge when he played the last three games of his college career at New Mexico State with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
More than a decade later, the former North High standout lineman is still up to his old tricks, taking on all-comers, only this time as the Stars’ head football coach.
It started late last season, as Bolin was forced into action when Norm Brown abruptly resigned as North's head coach just two games into the Southeast Yosemite League schedule. The challenges continued in the spring when the coronavirus pandemic hit, followed by the tragic death of one of his players, lineman Wyatt Burch, while hiking on Father’s Day.
“I think anytime that you’re bringing a coach on board, especially for a premier sport like football, you really try to think about the worst-case scenario and how that person would handle it,” said AJ Shearon, North High athletic director. “And I don’t think anybody could have envisioned the scenario kind of like what we’ve been going through the past four or five months with COVID-19 hitting and then with the death of a beloved player.
“But he’s really guided our program through those times so smoothly, like a real veteran coach. He’s someone that’s been around the game for such a long time and has been around the North High community his whole life. So if there was ever a person to lead us through that, I think Richie is that guy.”
Being a head coach wasn’t really in the immediate plans for Bolin, who worked as an assistant for several years, including the last two at North. But following a loss to Foothill that dropped the Stars to 0-2 in SEYL, things unraveled quickly, and Bolin was thrust into the spotlight as interim head coach.
North responded with four straight victories, including an opening-round playoff win over Kerman that advanced the Stars to the Central Section Division 4 quarterfinals.
Bolin was hired as the full-time head coach following the season.
“It’s pretty surreal because it’s something that you would dream about, but for a long time I didn’t think that it would happen,” Bolin said. “I didn’t think it was really in the cards because we have such a history of great coaches there (at North). It’s incredible to have a title among the people that have been there. It was pretty overwhelming and exciting, and I was super proud of it.”
And Shearon couldn’t be happier.
“The circumstances of him coming on was definitely not ideal for anybody,” Shearon said. “And I’ve known Richie for a long time, since I started working at North, and we all thought he would be the guy for the job, but just watching him in those games after he took over and the way that the kids were reacting to him, the way that they were playing, it was really a special environment. He did such a great job taking over in circumstances that were tough for everybody and really leading the kids and helping us finish out with a really good season.”
Unfortunately, as Bolin prepares for his first full season as the Stars’ coach, there is still plenty of uncertainty. School officials are scheduled to meet on July 20 to decide when — or if — football can be played safely.
“With everything going on, we’re hoping for the best, but we’re prepared for the worst,” Bolin said. “We’re either going to find out that we’re going to start up in two weeks or there’s a possibility that we may not have football for another five months. I think the big thing is to have a plan in place in case we start early.”
Bolin has been meeting remotely with his team in an effort the past several weeks and is pleased with the progress they are making.
“It’s interesting, since I took over in kind of weird circumstances and I feel like it’s just kind of continued to what we’re dealing with now,” Bolin said. “Taking over with four games left and then all of a sudden the offseason gets shut off and we really don’t know our fate.
“The important part is that we got such good buy-in during that time that we’ve been able to stay in contact with kids. And keeping them motivated and things like that. It’s been an interesting offseason, but for us it was super important to get that buy-in so it would sustain through this.”
Bolin’s interaction and organization during these uncertain times only serves to solidify the decision to hire him as head coach.
“Every day he’s having Zoom meetings with the guys, reaching out to them one-on-one to make sure they’re doing ok, and really just taking care of them even when he can’t be there in person to work the guys out and put them through drills,” Shearon said “ It really speaks volumes to who he is and why we’re so excited about him leading the program moving forward.”