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Woody Paige: Mission in Colorado Springs helped steer Garett Bolles to possible NFL career

February 19, 2017 Updated: February 19, 2017 at 7:33 am
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UCLA defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, right, tries to get Utah offensive lineman Garett Bolles, center, as quarterback Troy Williams passes during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Pasadena, Calif. Utah won 52-45. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

When Garett Bolles showed up on the doorstep of Colorado Springs in 2013 from Lehi, Utah, he was a lost young man on a mission.

Over the next year and a half "I grew mentally, physically and spiritually," he says. "My time in Colorado Springs was so very important in my life, and I'm so thankful to the people there. It's like my second home."

Now, back in Utah, Bolles is matured, married and a new father. He attended Snow Junior College in 2014-15 and spent 2016 at the University of Utah, where he became one of the three best offensive tackles in college football.

And he could return to Colorado in 2017. Bolles is listed in several NFL mock drafts, including the most prestigious, chosen by ESPN's Mel Kiper, as the Broncos' potential No. 1 pick.

It's been quite the unusual journey for the former juvenile miscreant who was suspended by, or kicked out of, schools five times, became charmed with drugs, alcohol, gangs and petty crimes, went to jail, gave up on football after playing four defensive positions for his high school team and worked for almost two years in a garage door repair shop.

Raised in a dysfunctional home, Bolles was kicked to the curb by his father his senior year in high school. A neighbor and Bolles' former lacrosse coach, Greg Freeman, happened to drive by and saw Bolles with two bundles of clothes on the street. Freeman called his wife, Emily, and they agreed to shelter Bolles despite his troubled past.

The Freemans gave Bolles a strict set of rules: No cellphone use at night; he was to avoid shady friends and any hint of trouble; he had to attend church with the family (there were two other kids) and tithe (requiring that he secure a job).

Bolles began working at Freeman's shop, developed a deeply religious belief and joined the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Emily and Greg became "mom" and "dad," and several neighborhood women tutored Bolles so he could graduate.

Two years later, he decided to go on an LDS mission. "Several of my friends were sent to foreign countries, but I was shocked to learn I would be going so close to home - Colorado Springs."

Staying at church members' homes, he "helped those in need and poverty and looking for God in their lives" from Castle Rock to Parker to the Springs. "I was talking to kids about how you can accomplish anything if you believe in yourself and the Lord, and you can get a second chance like I did after my rough childhood."

He'd always wanted to play college football, but that dream was impossible - he was tilting at windmills - when Bolles was 21 and in the Springs. When he arrived he was 6-foot-4 and about 220 pounds, "but I started growing into my body." He returned to Utah "mostly out of shape" at 6-5 and almost 300. "I planned to go back into the garage door business."

While in the Springs, Bolles became a fan of Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

Because of his size, Bolles was recommended to coaches at BYU. He didn't have the academics, but, impressed by his attitude and his size, they helped him obtain a scholarship to Snow Junior College. There, he was transformed into an offensive lineman. "I didn't even know how to get into a three-point stance. But they gave me a chance and stuck with me, and I got to be pretty good."

As in Junior College All-American at left tackle - after being away from the game for three years. "I couldn't believe I started getting letters from major colleges - Ole Miss to Georgia to Oklahoma and others." At Snow he also met his future wife - Natalie. And they had son Kingston two months ago. "Family, religion, football," he says.

He chose to stay close - Utah. He had been studying the career of Zane Beadles, a Utes offensive lineman who was drafted by the Broncos. "It's been an honor the past few days to work out with Zane," he said. "He was kind of a model for me."

Last season, as a junior, Bolles joined Utah's summer practices, uncertain about what to expect. He was put on the first team the first week, and by the final week, he was named all-Pac-12 and second-team All-American, with one year of big-time football. He dominated defensive linemen and blew up linebackers. Check his highlights on YouTube, and you'll know why. "He's got the whole package," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told The Salt Lake City Tribune. "He's got the height, the length, the feet, the hips. He's flexible; he can bend; he's strong; he's athletic. He lacks nothing."

According to scouts, he does lack experience. Still, though, Garett is considered a first-round draft choice. The Broncos, the Seahawks and the Texans seem most interested, and their people have talked to his agents.

"I served the Lord," Bolles said, "and he has blessed me."

The next step is the NFL combine next week, "and I've worked as hard as I could to get ready and do the best I can and see what happens. ... I'm looking forward to meeting Mr. (John) Elway and all the other football people. It would be something if I could play for the Broncos, but I'll just be happy to be anywhere in the NFL.

"Oh my goodness, who in the world could believe I've gotten this far?"

Believe.

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