They picked me up off the streets gave me a job and a place to stay and that’s who my family is to this day. —Garett Bolles
SALT LAKE CITY — Garett Bolles is a grateful young man. It’s clearly apparent when during the course of a 10-minute interview, he uses the word “grateful” at least a dozen times.
But considering the life he’s lived and the path he was heading down, Bolles can be excused for overusing the word to describe his current state of mind.
He’s grateful to be playing football, he’s grateful to be playing for the University of Utah, he’s grateful for his coaches and teammates, he’s grateful to be blessed with a big, strong body, he’s grateful for the wonderful family that picked him up and gave him a home when he was down and out, he’s grateful for his wife and he’s grateful for the opportunity to become a father in a few months.
Bolles has come a long way from his days of misspent youth when he couldn’t stay out of trouble long enough to stay on the football field. He went from playing eight different positions for his high school team to giving up football altogether for a couple of years while he worked, before going on an LDS Church mission. After that he landed at Snow College, where he quickly became a five-star recruit with every school from Alabama to Ohio State to Florida State seeking his services.
In the end the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder decided to stay home and play for Utah, where he is being counted on to fill one of the most important positions on the team — left tackle — where his responsibility is to protect Ute quarterback Troy Williams.
It took until about halfway through fall camp for Ute coaches to acknowledge Bolles as a starter, although there was never much doubt he would fill the left tackle spot after the hype he received prior to coming to Utah.
“Garett is as advertised,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “He is a tremendous talent. He has a big frame, long wing span, great feet, he’s explosive, he’s agile — he’s the whole package.”
Ute offensive line coach Jim Harding adds, “We recruit athleticism size and strength and he possesses all three of those things. He’s a physical kid and does a good job of finishing blocks. Off the field he puts in a lot of time and he’s definitely got the right work ethic.”
Bolles’ story is remarkably similar to that of Michael Oher, the Mississippi lineman whose true-life story was the subject of the 2009 movie "The Blind Side."
Like Oher, Bolles plays left tackle and is the son of a drug-addicted mother and found another home as a teenager. In Oher’s case, it was a schoolteacher and her husband, while in Bolles’ case it was his former lacrosse coach Greg Freeman and his wife, Emily, who took him under their wings.
Bolles was never all-state or all-region at Westlake High School in Lehi. Although he had played football most of his life, trouble kept him off the field for much of his high school career. When he was 18, he went to work for a garage door company owned by the Freemans with strict rules to abide by if he wanted to live with them.
“They picked me up off the streets gave me a job and a place to stay and that’s who my family is to this day,” Bolles said. “They’re great people and they changed my life around and gave me an opportunity.”
After a couple of years of working, Bolles left on an LDS mission to Colorado, where he says he grew physically and spiritually and became the mature young man he is today.
“I was like 6-5, 230, so I grew a lot on my mission, but maturing over time and putting the Lord first has blessed me dramatically,” he said. “Absolutely my mission was the best thing for me. It really set the foundation to make me the man I am today and really helped me with my family and my wife and my kid on the way. I’m really grateful for all the love and support that I have.”
Upon his return from his mission, Bolles, then close to 300 pounds, enrolled at Snow College and quickly displayed his ability on the football field. After his freshman year, he was offered a scholarship to BYU and verbally committed, but when offers started pouring in from virtually every major program in the country, Bolles reconsidered.
After his sophomore season, he was listed as the No. 2 recruit in the JC ranks and he narrowed his choices down to seven schools — Arizona State, Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oregon and Utah.
Bolles deflects questions about his recruitment and all the attention he received, except to say, “I was honored to receive offers from schools in the SEC and places like that. It’s an honor to be here at Utah with the community and support we have here.”
While Bolles has a captivating back story with the progress he’s made both on and off the field over the past few years, he prefers to look ahead to a bright future with the Utes.
“I’m really looking forward to this year,” he says. “It’s a dream come true playing at this level. The guys you see on TV are your teammates and I get to work with them every day. I’m excited to be here.”
At 24, Bolles is older than most college players and if he continues to play up to his potential the next couple of seasons he could find himself earning money in the NFL like Oher has for several years. But that’s the farthest thing from his mind right now.
“I just try to be the same person every day, coming to work with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I don’t compare myself to anyone. I knew coming in here I had to work hard to get where I need to be, and that’s what I bring every day.”
Bolles met his wife, Natalie, at Snow and the couple has been married for nine months with a child due in early January, soon after what Bolles hopes will be a big bowl game appearance for the Utes.
“I’m really looking forward to being a father, the greatest gift from God I’ve received so far,” he said.
Before that, Bolles will try to make a difference on the field for the Utah football team as he counts his blessings.
“It’s the greatest school in the country, I have the greatest coaches and the O-block is a special group of dudes who come out every day, knowing we have each others backs and work hard,” he said. “I’m blessed with a big body to come out here and play with these guys. I’m super grateful to be here.”