North High's head coach Richie Bolin goes over a play. The North High grad has gone 3-0 since taking over as interim coach for his alma mater and leads them into a Division IV playoff game with Kerman Friday night.

When it comes to football, Richie Bolin clearly likes to see things through to the finish. 

As an offensive lineman at New Mexico State, Bolin played the final three games of his senior season on a torn ACL in 2008. It was a particularly grueling close to a four-year run where Bolin's Aggie teams went just 11-38.

But even on a team with little to play for, Bolin has no regrets staying on the field his senior year, providing a simple reason for doing so.

"I (had) love for my teammates," he said. "Those were the guys I went to battle with, I trained with. I wasn't going to the NFL, I understood that. So I was playing for them."

That love of locker room camaraderie and seeing things through remains with Bolin today, and it proved to be a big asset to his high school alma mater this fall.

A Bakersfield native, Bolin shined on the football field at North High School in the early 2000s, playing on both the offensive and defensive line and winning SWYL Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior.

After graduating from New Mexico State in 2009, he returned home and quickly took to the high school coaching ranks, spending his first three years in the profession as an assistant at North. Following a six-season stint at Stockdale, he returned to the Stars in 2017.

Over the years, Bolin says he began to entertain the possibility of becoming a head coach "down the road, eventually." To the surprise of many, the process was fast-tracked this fall. 

After a 23-14 loss to Foothill dropped them to 0-2 in the SEYL, the Stars were hit with a bombshell following the surprise resignation of head coach Norm Brown.

Bolin quickly elected to fill the head coaching vacancy on an interim basis, mainly because he didn't have a choice. Asked to take the reigns roughly 25 minutes before North took the practice field on Oct. 14, he admits his tenure didn't have the smoothest start.

"That first practice we had, and even the kids will tell you, it didn't look good," said Bolin, who estimates he slept just three hours his first night on the job. "There wasn't any organization, there wasn't any time to get anything ready."

Luckily, that messy session wasn't a sign of things to come. Lying awake that first night, Bolin began putting into motion a plan to keep the Stars, who still had a winning 4-3 record, afloat.

It started with small changes, such as shortening practices and making adjustments to the team's pregame warmup routine.

But more than anything, he says he's tried to get his players to share his love for the program where he saw so much success as a player, hoping to convince them they can achieve the same.

"I'm very honest when I say I love this community, I love this school," he said. "Kids are intelligent, they know when you’re being truthful and when you’re not. So I think they understand that I mean every word of it."

His message seems to have gotten through.

“He gives us all a hope, a mentality that makes us want to play harder, makes us want to play more," senior fullback and linebacker Javier Ocampo said. "We can tell that he’s passionate about it, which makes the players passionate about it and it helps us out a lot.”

"He brings us more together," added junior running back Brian Dean. "I feel like we bond more as a team."

Some exciting wins haven't hurt the transition either.

Since Bolin took over, North is 3-0, its victories coming by a combined 14 points. That includes a 35-34 win over East — sealed with an overtime Ocampo sack on a two-point conversion try — in his first game and a 26-24 win over South in the regular season finale.

Now 7-3, the eighth-seeded Stars enter the postseason with high ambitions. They'll begin the playoffs Friday by hosting ninth-seeded Kerman (4-6) in the opening round of the Central Section CIF Division IV Football Championships.

Bolin's future after this season is still up in the air. Choosing to focus on the task at hand, he says he and school officials haven't discussed whether he'll take the position full-time.

If he is eventually offered the job, it seems safe to predict what his answer will be.

"This community, when you grow up in it, it’s pretty tight-knit," Bolin said. "We take care of each other. The support from the community, the teachers, the kids, it’s been awesome.

"(The job) didn't come the way I would have expected or wanted, but I’m pretty happy we’re in this position as a team. I love this school. I love these kids.”

Friday's game at North High kicks off at 7 p.m.

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