When Garett Bolles entered the south gate of Don Breese Stadium at Lewis-Palmer High School Friday, hundreds of overjoyed children sprinted toward him.
Bolles, a left tackle for the Denver Broncos, gave out high-fives to nearly every child and quickly began issuing instructions for his second annual football and cheerleading camp.
“The biggest thing I love is kids,” Bolles said. “You can be a role model for their whole life. You can make a kid smile, and that can go years and years of them being happy and turn their life around.”
Bolles partnered with Pikes Peak Pop Warner and South Colorado Springs Nissan to host the camp, which ran Thursday and Friday evenings, and was open to any child 5-14 years old.
Bolles didn’t accept a dime — a rarity for NFL stars that host camps. He said his only wish was to help children learn lessons that were absent early in his life.
After Bolles was kicked out of his father’s house as a teenager due to his behavior, he was picked up off the street by a family involved in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bolles turned his life around, ditching the drug, alcohol, violence and gang activity of his past.
Straight out of Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, Utah, Bolles did his LDS Church mission in Colorado Springs before going to college. Later on, he transferred from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, to the Division I level at University of Utah as the No. 3 overall JUCO player in the 2016 class. He decided to forgo his senior year and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. The Broncos signed him to a four-year contract.
It was at that time Bolles understood his calling to give back.
“When everyone started to recognize me, and I got drafted into this wonderful state of Colorado, I knew I had to give back to the people that loved and cared for me,” he said.
The 2017 NFL draft first-round pick struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — more commonly known as ADHD — growing up, and still does to this day. He recalled being constantly picked on, teased and mistreated before becoming a big-time football player.
Bolles’ own trials with ADHD are the main reason why he invites children with special needs to his camp for free — to give them a safe haven to play, learn and grow freely.
“I understand what it means to not have everything,” Bolles said. “Challenger kids always have a special place in my heart.”
Pikes Peak Pop Warner President Sasan Sattari wore Bolles’ jersey during the camp and helped with instructions for fundamental football drills. In his second year partnering with the camp, Sattari said he was again blown away by Bolles’ desire to be there.
“It’s the most generous thing I’ve ever seen out of an NFL player,” Sattari said. “He’s an extremely high-character guy.”
Once each camp member went through stretches, Bolles called the group to the 50-yard line and gave a motivational speech about overcoming difficulties in life, loving everyone and uplifting the community.
Bolles also told campers to focus on details, and it was a message he said goes far beyond the football field.
“If your mom says, ‘Hey, clean your room,’ and you’re going to stuff everything under your bed,” Bolles explained to the kids, “but your mom wants you to fold your clothes and put them away. It’s for a reason.
“Pay attention to the little things, and that’s for life.”
Even though Bolles fully enjoys the opportunity to step away from the field and give back, he said there’s a feeling of excitement in Denver regarding the 2019 season, especially with new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
Training camp begins July 17, and the first preseason game is Aug. 1. Just over a month later, Denver opens the regular season Sept. 9 at the Oakland Raiders.
Bolles’ personal goal is to make the Pro Bowl.
“Kids look up to that,” Bolles said. “If you’re the best you can be and do everything right, the kids will follow you.”
Munchak played ball for the Houston Oilers for 11 years (1982-93), spent time as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans from 2011-13 and, after a four-year gig with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is now in Denver.
Bolles said Munchak, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, makes each offensive line position easier to understand. He specifically told his players to have a plan for every situation, which Bolles added is a new concept for most on the team — including himself.
“If you always have a plan, you never have to worry about anything happening,” Bolles said.
As for Bolles’ camp, he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“I want to do this for as long as I can,” he said. “As long as I’m in a Broncos uniform.”