Most draft years, I was assigned the quick-hit,
but as-extensive-as-possible profile of the Broncos' top draft pick. That pick, of course, was made on a Thursday night and
the reporting started in earnest then. The Broncos usually lined me up with a brief one-on-one with the top pick when he traveled
to Denver and the team headquarters on Friday and met the media at a news conference. Around that, I also lined up other interviews
with the pick's family, coaches and anyone else I could find. The story, as I remember, always was "due" late Saturday
morning and ran in the Sunday paper. For a major story produced in roughly 36 hours, it always turned out OK. No, sorry ...
better than that. The Bolles story was the best of the bunch. -- TF
Garett Bolles, 2017. (Andy Cross photo.)
Garett Bolles, 2020 ... after going through some rocky times with Broncos
April 28, 2017
In August 2011, Greg Freeman was in his company truck in Lehi, Utah, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.
The owner of a garage door installation and service company who dabbled as a high school
lacrosse coach, Freeman spotted a teenager he had known for years, first coaching him in lacrosse as far back as seventh grade;
and then as his own children and wife, Emily, helped tutor the kid through high school.
Garett Bolles, who had just turned 19 and had graduated from
Westlake High School two months earlier, was at the side of the road near his family home, carrying garbage sacks and duffel
bags full of his belongings.
Garett’s father, Grove, fed up with his son’s propensity to get into trouble at the wrong place, at the
wrong time, with the wrong people, and with the wrong things, had kicked him out, saying that for the good of all, Garett
needed to find somewhere else to live.
Freeman pulled over. He spoke with Garret and got the story. He called Emily. He explained the situation
and asked his wife: “What do you want me to do?”
At the Broncos’ Dove Valley headquarters Friday, Emily Freeman, 47, recalled her
had four children of their own, two boys — including a son, Josh, in the same graduating class as Garett at Westlake
— and two girls. They both knew Garett fell far short of qualifying for a halo. Yet they were about to add a third son.
“I hit my knees and prayed,”
Emily said. “I thought, ‘God will know. He’ll know what’s right for Garett, he’ll know what’s
right for our kids.’ … It was clear as day. ‘Bring him home.’ I said, ‘Greg, put his stuff
in the truck and bring him home.’ ”
On Friday, Greg Freeman, 49, was only a few minutes removed from being teary-eyed as the Broncos’
2017 first-round draft choice, Utah tackle Garett Bolles, thanked the couple he now calls his parents at his introductory
news conference at the team’s headquarters. Bolles was the NFL’s No. 20 overall choice, the first offensive lineman
taken. And this was all less than six years after he literally had nowhere to go … and ended up with the Freemans.
“He was struggling with growing up,” Greg recalled. “He was known
by the city police and things of that nature by first name and he knew them by first name. He did have an issue with vandalism
and spent the night in the jail, and so, yeah, he was a wayward kid needing some love and guidance.”
Said Emily: “Even behind all of the hard things that were going on at home and
with the law, and everything he was facing, you just saw inside there was a kid with so much potential. He just needed someone
to tell him it was there.”
works in real estate financing and has remained in Garett’s life since that night, and attended the draft in Philadelphia
on Thursday as part of Garett’s entourage. The one thing that can’t be doubted: This worked out for the best after
Garett, always a handful, was adrift following his high school graduation.
“He had a pretty good senior year in high school football,” Grove said Saturday. “Not
quite good enough to be a college player, but you could see that that talent and the future was there. He kind of struggled
with not having a landing board out of high school. His two older brothers, Kyle and Weston, served LDS missions and he wasn’t
quite sure if he was ready for that on the maturity level. He wasn’t quite sure he was ready for the workforce and what
he wanted to do.
he decided to start partying. It got pretty out of hand.”
Grove and his wife had split up the year before and as a single father, Grove
still had Garett and his two younger brothers and sister in the household.
"I’m a real hands-on dad,” he said. “I’ve been an
integral part of his life, his whole life. I’ve probably spent more time with him than any of my other children because
he needed it. We’ve always been very close in that regard. When he started spinning out of control, we had a lot of
talks about maturation and focus and direction and being patient in life’s process and understanding he was going to
have to find himself and be more disciplined in his choices. Well, he chose to hang around a bunch of knucklehead kids who
were pretty bad kids.”
Grove said he felt as if he had lost control of his son.
“I wouldn’t say his partying was exceptional or extraordinary,”
he said. “Typical things of young boys trying to find themselves in life. Drinking, a little bit of drugs. But his disrespect
at home had gotten off the charts. … It was understandable what he was doing, but it certainly wasn’t acceptable.
Finally, one day I came home on a Saturday morning and there were three of his buddies in his room who were forbidden to be
in my house. Two of those kids went on to prison and jail.”
Grove said he told Garett’s buddies to get out of the house.
Then he turned to Garett.
“I said, ‘I’m going to give you four hours
to get your stuff out of the house, and when I come back, if you’re here, I’m going to get you arrested for trespassing.’
He said, ‘You’re kidding, Dad.’ I said, ‘No, this has come to an end. You need to get out of the house.
I’ll still keep being your dad, still love you, still going to support you, but you can no longer live here. You’re
upsetting the household, you’re not helping, your brothers and sister don’t like you being around right now, you
need to find someplace else to live. I’ll be there for you, but you can’t live here.'”
Grove said he emphasized that if Garett
got his act together and showed he could be respectful long-term, he could return to the family’s home. But not until
a new life
Garett moved in with the Freemans, Greg and Emily declared there were three rules. Garett would attend weekly services at
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he would tithe 10 percent of any income he made to the church, and he would
turn off and turn over his phone every night.
and I have a real interesting relationship,” Emily said. “He’ll tell you he’s scared of me, which
is funny, my kids laugh so hard. But he knows when I tell him something, I’m serious about it. When he came in, I said
there won’t be any warnings. I said, ‘You break one of these rules and we’ll help you find somewhere else
to live.’ I wasn’t going to leave him on the street. He never did break them. He went to church every single Sunday.
He paid his tithing. None of the kids that worried me came around. There were other battles along the way that we would go
through and work out one by one.”
Grove Bolles spoke Saturday, he was very enthusiastic in his praise of the Freemans and while expressing gratitude for what
they have done with their rules that Garett accepted in reassessing his life.
“Garett would call me frequently, sometimes several times a day and say he was adjusting
to a new household, new rules, a new environment,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s Emily and Greg’s
house, I know what kind of household they have, it’s a great place, you need to adjust and abide by their rules. But
you can’t come home.’ I said, ‘I’m here for you, I’m still your dad, I’m still going to
love you, that’s where you need to be right now.’
“I think it’s a classic example of what a mother- and father-run household can do as compared
to a single-parent household. … I was completely involved in his life and all his activities. I want to focus on the
positive, what’s Garett’s made of his life and how Greg and Emily have helped. I’ve been there supporting
him unwaveringly the whole time. I didn’t abandon him. I didn’t disown him. If anything, I was more involved in
his life than ever. But I had to support Greg and Emily in their efforts because that was his last chance. I saw that and
he saw that.”
Freeman noted: “His real father put him out for lessons of good love. Grove is still a good friend of ours. At that
point, Garett needed a different direction, and I happened to be there.”
The lore is that, before all that happened, Garett was “kicked out”
of five schools as he was raised in Lehi. That’s misleading because it treats suspensions as expulsions.
“I just fought a lot,” Bolles said in a conversation in the lobby outside
the Broncos’ position meeting rooms Friday. “I had a lot of anger, because there was a lot of turmoil at my house.”
Struggling at times because of attention
deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADDH), Garett transferred from Lehi High to the new Westlake High during his junior year.
At Westlake as a senior football player, he got caught up in that vandalism incident at Lehi — his former school.
“I spray-painted my archrival high school,” Bolles said sharply. “Whatever
you want to think of that, you can. I was just a high school kid playing a high school prank that went wrong so I don’t
really think about it. That stuff’s in the past. I’m going to bury it and never bring it back up. I’m a
Denver Bronco and that stuff’s behind me. Now I have to work with a team to make them better and make me better.”
Michael O’Connor at the time was, and still is, the athletic director at Westlake.
“He can be a character at times,
as everyone knows,” O’Connor said of Bolles. “All the things he went through and all he’s done to
make his life better, it shows a lot about who he is. But he and a couple of kids obviously didn’t make the right decision
then and they spray-painted (Lehi’s) turf field. That was at the very beginning of the season, so he ended up having
to sit out a few games. That flustered him, and he’s a passionate kid. He’s emotional, and everything comes from
his heart right away. I know they got fined and the kids had to pay for it. There were three or four of them, all suspended.
“He wasn’t on track to graduate.
But something sparked right after football season. … He got his work done and then some and he graduated. We could
have given up on him. We didn’t give up on kids.”
Dream of NFL forms
As he played football and lacrosse and also met the Freemans and others for tutoring during his high school
years, Bolles talked about someday playing in the NFL. (Westlake didn’t have a lacrosse program. Freeman was the lacrosse
coach at Lehi. So even after Bolles transferred to Westlake, he played high school lacrosse for Freeman at Lehi.)
among others, reminded Garett that academically he wouldn’t pass the NCAA’s muster to receive a scholarship. He
was a decent high school football player, but lanky and immature physically. His NFL talk seemed complete fantasy.
For the next 18
months, after moving in with the Freemans, Garett worked for Greg as a garage-door technician. He not only liked the work,
he became very good at it. “It’s my passion,” he said. “It’s something I love to do. Anyone
out there that needs help with their garage door, call me, I’ll be there.”
Said Greg: “My thought was this
guy probably will take over this business and be in the garage-door business his whole adult life.”
Starting in early
2013, Bolles also spent nearly a year on an LDS mission to Colorado. He officially was based in Colorado Springs, but spent
much of his time in Pueblo.
“I loved Pueblo,” he said. “They’re great people down there. The food’s
outstanding; they put the green chili on the burgers and they smother burritos. Fat food for offensive linemen like me. I
loved them; I have so many friends and friendships that always will play a big role in my life.”
Returning to the
Freeman home in early 2014, he again worked with Greg’s company. But by then, he had grown and gained a lot of weight.
As he played on an adult team in a summer lacrosse league, with Greg as a teammate, he displayed eye-popping speed and athletic
ability for a big man.
With encouragement from Grove, who did some checking with a football coach friend, and from the
Freemans, Garett and Emily Freeman ended up meeting with a Brigham Young University assistant coach in Provo. The coach summoned
Snow Junior College coach Britt Maughan to meet Bolles, and Maughan invited him to attend the start of preseason practices
on what amounted to a tryout.
The Freemans told Garett, OK, if he earned a scholarship at the junior college program
in Ephraim, Utah, great. If he didn’t, it was back to the garage-door business.
“My mom told me, ‘If you
have cleats on you, you’re the first one on the field and the last one off, you run everywhere,’ ” Bolles
said. “That’s what I did. I kept running and doing what I needed to do to make myself successful.”
He got that scholarship,
and after his freshman season, it was obvious he was capable of playing at the major-program level. In March 2015, he attended
Snow’s “True Badger Night.”
“It’s a dance, and then you go into the bell tower and it’s a big
kissing frenzy,” he said. “I had a warm feeling to go and there she was, and I told her, ‘Let me show you
how a real man kisses.’ That’s what happened.”
“She” was Natalie Williams.
me her phone number and I thought it was one of those when girls give you fake numbers, but it was the right number,”
Now Natalie Bolles, she also was at Dove Valley on Friday.
“The first night we hung out, I asked
him about his life because it was my first time meeting him,” she said. “He just told me his life story. Like
everything. I just saw the passion and the caring person that he is. I cried when he told me his story. I said this guy is
so sweet, he’s so nice, he’s a guy I would like to keep hanging out with.”
He even told her about garage
doors. Really. “He loves to talk about it,” she said. “That was one of his favorite things. If you ask him
anything about a garage door, he’ll tell you how to fix it, where to get it, how long it will last.” She added
something that’s especially interesting in light of his ADDH struggles. “Once he retains information, it’s
there,” she said.
They were engaged in June 2015, married in December 2015 and now are the parents of 4-month-old
son Kingston, who was in “Lion King” Garett’s arms when the Broncos’ top draft choice joined NFL commissioner
Roger Goodell on the stage in Philadelphia on Thursday. Kingston also was with his parents at Broncos headquarters Friday.
As a sophomore
at Snow, Bolles was the Western States Football League’s offensive player of the year. As a tackle.
to attend BYU, he decided to consider other options after he became one of the most highly sought junior college players in
the country. Sifting through offers from power five programs, he chose the backyard school, Utah, and was an all-Pac-12 choice
as a junior last season before declaring for the draft.
“He had a strong desire to be the best and is willing
to put in the time afterwards,” Utah offensive line coach Jim Harding said. “If we would have an individual period,
and he maybe didn’t feel like he got the technique down, he would grab me after practice and ask to work that technique
Did he see any of the troubled kid that Bolles once was?
“No, I didn’t, and that’s
what I told the scouts,” Harding said. “I can’t say that about every kid I have in the offensive line, but
on Friday and Saturday night, I’m not wondering what Garett Bolles is doing or if he’s doing the right thing.
Nothing that is in his past ever showed up when he was at Utah. … He got married when we were still recruiting him,
and he’s been with Natalie ever since he came to campus, and that’s a real stabilizing influence for him.
are a tremendous positive influence on him, and I think it’s tremendous where Garett is going because it’s the
closest place it could have been to Utah. Emily and Greg have done wonders for him.”
It’s a story that doesn’t
need to be made up.