GLENDALE, Ariz. --On the opening kickoff of Thursday night's game in Arizona, rookie cornerback Omar Bolden's emotions were high.
He was back in the state where he played his college ball, with friends and family in the crowd. And when the ball from Cardinals kicker Jay Feely arrived, it was only 6 yards deep in the end zone -- a returnable kickoff.
"I like returning the ball, so any time I can get my hands on it, I want to bring it out," Bolden said. "But that's not always the best decision."
Bolden ran down the middle of the field and was dropped at the 14-yard line -- 6 yards shy of where the offense would've started its drive had he taken a knee in the end zone.
But the rookie's confidence didn't waver.
After all, he'd racked up 523 yards and two touchdowns as a returner in college, and his coaches trusted him to try to recreate that success in the NFL.
So by the time Bolden caught his next kickoff from Feely 3 yards deep in the end zone, he already knew he would take off with it.
"I had the opportunity to bring it out," he. "It's preseason, they want to see what you can do, so I just tried to make the most of my opportunity."
Bolden picked up speed, ran to the right sideline and essentially outran everyone on the field.
Everyone except wide receiver Gerell Robinson, that is.
"I actually thought one of my teammates was a Cardinals player – I tried to give him a stiff-arm," Bolden laughed. "Come to find out he's actually just trying to keep me up and keep me inbounds."
Bolden was dangerously close to stepping out of bounds, so Robinson, his former teammate at Arizona State University, was simply trying to pull him back away from the sideline.
Once he figured out who it was, Bolden was happy to finish his 103-yard touchdown sprint alongside Robinson.
"He kind of escorted me down the sideline," he said. "That was cool."
The 103-yard return was the longest in Broncos history in any game, and it gave Denver its first points of the night. Not only that, it got the team rolling toward its eventual victory after being shut out through nearly three full quarters.
"Omar kind of lit a spark for the team with his return," quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "The return team, they made some great blocks, but Omar was able to show off his speed a little bit. I think the team really picked up a little bit of energy after that."
From there, three Matt Prater field goals -- including one as time expired -- sealed the game for the Broncos.
After the game, Head Coach John Fox called the return "big," not just because of its affect on the game, but because of what it meant for Bolden, the team's fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
"I think Omar is a guy that had a couple injuries early in camp," Fox said. "He's gotten more playing time as we've gone through these last three preseason games. Again, return capability is something that we're definitely looking for and looking for depth in that position.
"It was a heck of a return. It's nice to see a kid come home and be able to do something like that."