OK UT DEC 02

Former Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Bolton (right) sacks Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger during the Big 12 Conference championship game, Dec. 1 in Arlington, Texas. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World file

Oklahoma’s abrupt transition at defensive coordinator rocked the football program last season.

Tuesday marks the anniversary of Mike Stoops’ firing as the Sooners’ defensive coordinator.

While the sample size is only five games, OU has shown improvement under first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

Curtis Bolton is keeping up with his former Oklahoma teammates. The linebacker didn’t get to build a relationship with Grinch, but attended a few spring practices and is impressed with the results so far this season.

“You can tell he’s a culture-shifter,” Bolton said. “No disrespect to the previous coaches, but that was a guy that I wish I would have had when I was around here.”

Bolton, who was an undrafted free agent, is currently on the Green Bay Packers’ injured reserve list after suffering a torn ACL during the preseason.

Rumors flew around in the hours following OU’s 48-45 loss to Texas last season. Bolton was one of the lightning rods when it was reported he angrily left the halftime locker room and briefly strayed a few feet outside the Cotton Bowl (which he admitted did happen). There also was a strange story that he got into a physical altercation with Stoops during halftime (which he passionately denied).

How much of a distraction was that weekend during his final season playing for the Sooners?

“It was just the outside noise. I’m the type of guy who just likes to show up and play ball,” Bolton said. “I let too much of the outside noise and the outside everything play in to all the storytelling. At the end of the day, I was there to play ball. I didn’t do a good enough job of that.

“I appreciate that situation because I grew from it. I became a better man because of it … the guys in the building know exactly how I am and how our team operated.”

Bolton stays in touch with his former position coach, Tim Kish. The two formed a strong player-coach bond.

“Throughout my five years there, he had faith in me. He knew if I got the opportunity, I’d be in the spot I am today,” Bolton said. “I always try to keep in touch with him.”

Bolton said he’s not spoken with Stoops since the coach’s termination, but added that the relationship between the two was never tight.

“My best to him. I have nothing but respect for him, truly and honestly,” Bolton said. “With everything being said, he’s a good guy and I don’t think he got a fair shake a lot of the time. He’s a good dude.”

Bolton’s current situation is paralleling his 2017 season. That year was cut short after four games after suffering a severe ankle injury. All he could think about during that rehabilitation was to come back stronger in the next season.

“It was a good learning point, especially where I left off at that point (in 2017),” Bolton said. “I feel like I was in the same position that I was then. I showed a little bit, started to get trust from the coaching staff and the organization and then went down for the year.

“I went through a rougher time than I am at this point right now. I took what I experienced in 2017 and looking down on the lows and look forward to what’s coming next year.”

He reached out to Tre Norwood after the safety suffered what appears to be an ACL injury. He said that linebacker Caleb Kelly, who reportedly has the same knee injury, will bounce back better than ever.

The linebackers room will always remain a special place for him. Bolton likes how the group is being used this season.

“I always felt like we had the talent there. It’s just things didn’t work out for us,” Bolton said. “I knew those young guys had talent. They just needed the opportunity.

“The way we played, we didn’t rotate a lot and we didn’t bring a lot of guys into the fold. That’s something that I noticed this year. A lot of guys rotate in and they are getting the opportunity to run with it. For a lot of those guys, it’s not a surprise.

Bolton is excited to watch Saturday’s Oklahoma-Texas game.

“I’m definitely tuning in to see my boys go out there and get a W,” he said. “The intensity is unmatched. Just the atmosphere, driving through the crowd and the carnival. That game is one of the best games atmosphere-wise that I’ve ever been able to be a part of. That’s bowl games and College Football Playoffs included.”

Eric Bailey 918-581-8391

eric.bailey@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @ericbaileyTW

Sports Writer

Eric covers the University of Oklahoma football and men’s basketball teams. A Haskell Indian Nations University graduate, he has been a member of the Tulsa World sports staff for 12 years. Phone: 918-581-8391