UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A month into his Penn State football career, freshman quarterback Rob Bolden's teammates continue to rave about his poise and leadership skills.
His position coach, Jay Paterno, called Bolden's clinching 12-play, 96-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of this past weekend's 22-13 win against Temple, "a clutch drive for him and his development."
Bolden is 3-1 as the starter for No. 22 Penn State heading into the Big Ten Conference opener Saturday night against No. 17 Iowa. He is completing 60.2 percent (68 of 113) of his passes for 823 yards and has thrown three touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Statistics aside, not much else is known about the 18-year-old Bolden off the field.
He has not been made available for interviews since beating out sophomore Kevin Newsome and redshirt sophomore Matt McGloin three days before the season opener.
Bolden's mother, Tonya McNeal, talks to her son a few times a week and couldn't be more pleased with his early success.
She has attended three games and plans to be in the stands again Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City for the Nittany Lions' nationally televised game against the Hawkeyes on ESPN.
"I think Rob's doing a great job and I am so proud of him," McNeal said from her home in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Mich. "I knew he had it in him to get the job done.
"I didn't know he would be as good as he is this quickly. I am surprised, quite frankly."
McNeal gave birth to her son when she was 19, but never married his father, Robert Bolden, and they are no longer together.
Bolden's dad, who also has attended Penn State games to watch his son play, was born and raised in Detroit and is currently in law enforcement there.
McNeal said when Rob was 12, he took out a piece of notebook paper and scribbled down his future plans.
"He wrote that he wanted to play college football and play in the NFL," McNeal said. "He also wrote, 'I'm going to reach that goal. I'm going to get my goal.' "
McNeal said Penn State fans would be surprised to know that her son "has a goofy side to him."
"I think when Rob's with his teammates and coaches, he always has a poker face. But when he's home with me or his family, we see a whole different side of him.
"He acts crazy. He makes faces. He cracks jokes. He sings a little bit. He can sing anything; he has a nice voice. He started playing the drums when he was 3 or 4 years old, and he still does that sometimes."
Bolden has two sisters -- Paris Williams (3) and Faith Williams (14). McNeal said Bolden and Paris have forged a "very close" bond despite their age difference.
"We were at the game this past weekend and Paris ran up to Rob after the game and gave him a big hug," McNeal said.
Bolden, who chose Penn State over Michigan State, arrived on campus in May after graduating from St. Mary's Prep in Orchard Lake, Mich. He was the first freshman quarterback to start an opener for Penn State in 100 years and is just the third freshman quarterback to start a game for Joe Paterno in his 45 seasons as coach.
"He loves Penn State," McNeal said. "He said everybody up there accepted him from the outset and offered him help. He said it's like one big football family.
"From what I see, I think they're doing a pretty good job of taking care of him."
McNeal is the niece of Don McNeal, the former Alabama cornerback who made a key tackle on Penn State's Scott Fitzkee in the Crimson Tide's famous goal-line stand in the 1979 Sugar Bowl. McNeal later played in two Super Bowls in a nine-year NFL career with the Miami Dolphins.
Even so, Bolden's mom admits she isn't the most knowledgeable football fan. Yet she doesn't have any trouble following her son on the field, whether he's running the ball or passing it.
She recently had a T-shirt made up with her son's picture and jersey number. It reads: "Rob's No. 1 mom."
"I may be more nervous for the games than he is," McNeal said. "I always ask him, 'Are you ready?' He always says he feels OK and it's just another game.
"He tells me, 'Calm down, mom. Things will be fine.' He's always been very quiet and very laid back."
Ron Musselman: firstname.lastname@example.org .