Mission Part II: Rookie Garett Bolles protects the most important position in Denver

This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Garett Bolles’ football journey has come full circle.

The last time that Bolles was in Colorado for an extended period of time, his football journey had yet to be laid out.

After playing defensive tackle along with lacrosse at Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, Utah, he put football on hold and arrived in Colorado Springs in early 2013 to complete missionary work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That mission concluded early in 2014.

Just over four years after Bolles’ initial arrival in the Centennial State, he is back for round two, only this time his job is to help lock down the left side of Denver Broncos offensive line. His journey has brought him full circle in a sense, but the road back to Colorado involved a few different stops.

His first stop on the way back came in the form of Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. Looking for somewhere to play football, Bolles reached out to BYU before getting ahold of Britt Maughan, the head coach at Snow at the time. Bolles was a few requirements short of being able to attend BYU, so after a conversation about what Bolles wanted out of his college football experience Maughan welcomed him on the team.

“It was one of those things where he had returned from a mission and he had expressed interest that he wanted to play football and he was looking for some options,” Maughan says. “So, we got connected and just had a conversation about his goals and what his future was going to be. We talked about what he needed to do to be able to accomplish those things and we came to an agreement to come on down and play football for us. It was pretty simple, pretty straightforward.”

Bolles’ transition to Snow was a quick one. Maughan and Bolles didn’t meet in person until two or three weeks before Snow’s 2014 fall camp began. It didn’t take Bolles long to show Maughan and the rest of the coaching staff at Snow that they had a special player in the making on their hands.

“I think it was pretty early when we started running stretch line,” Maughan recalls. “About a week in, we realized this guy had a chance to play at the next level when we saw how he performed and how he attacked his athleticism.”

Maughan was right. In his two years at Snow, Bolles was named Second-Team All-Western States Football League as a freshman and First-Team All-WSFL as a sophomore. He was also named First-Team All-American and the WSFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2015. After completing his two seasons at the junior college level, Bolles transferred to the University of Utah for the 2016-17 season.

Bolles’ time at Utah was short, but he made the most of it. In an interview with Mile High Sports Radio’s Afternoon Drive with Les Shapiro and Eric Goodman just days before the Denver Broncos selected Bolles with the 20th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham spoke about what Bolles was able to do in such a short amount of time.

“Garret is a great kid first of all,” Whittingham said on the radio. “He’s one of those guys that wasn’t in our program for a long time, he was only here for a year, but he did everything right.”

Bolles started all 13 games and was named First-Team All-Pac-12 in his lone season with the Utes. Originally planning to use up the rest of his eligibility at Utah, Bolles declared for the NFL draft after just one season.

He was the first offensive lineman to be picked in the draft when the Broncos selected him 20th overall, a nugget that raised the eyebrows of football fans across the country. Questions began to follow.

Why would the Broncos select a soon to be 25-year-old left tackle with only one year of experience at the Division I level? Was he even the best tackle in the draft? At 25, hasn’t he hit his ceiling?

“Excited that Garett Bolles was available for us to take w/our 1st rd pick,” president of football operations and general manager John Elway tweeted after the draft. “He was the most athletic tackle in the draft & plays w/toughness!”

The answers are simple. After a less than favorable year for the Broncos offensive line in 2016, Bolles checked multiple boxes for Elway and company. First and foremost, they needed someone with a mean streak. According to Whittingham, that’s Bolles.

“Absolutely,” Whittingham said. “He’s a guy that loves to finish blocks and that’s what I really liked about him is his ability to finish a block. He does a great job at that.”

Bolles wasted no time convincing folks in Denver he’s going to play with an edge. He minced no words in his draft night press conference with the Denver media.

“I’m going to make sure I push those guys around so we can win games and get to where we need to be like we were a couple years ago winning the Super Bowl. I’m just going to be that nasty prick that those guys like up front and just continue to move forward and not get pushed in the dirt,” Bolles said via conference call.

What also pushed Bolles to the top of the Broncos’ list is his athleticism, something that impressed his coaches at every level. At this year’s combine, Bolles ran the fastest three-cone drill of any lineman at 7.29 seconds. His 9-foot-7-inch broad jump was tops among all linemen and tied for the fifth-best broad jump by an offensive lineman since 2006. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.95 seconds and the 20-yard shuttle in 4.55 seconds, both were the second fastest among offensive lineman in 2017.

“He’s got freakish athletic ability,” Whittingham says. “Great, great feet. Tremendous ability to get up to the next level, block that second level of defenders. Every week you turn on the game film and the things he’s doing you just say, ‘Wow. How does a guy that size do the things that he’s doing?’”

With that kind of athletic ability, Bolles’ mean streak on the field is simply a bonus. What makes Bolles interesting is the fact that his athleticism and aggressiveness are only two parts of what helped land him on the Broncos. The third is his attitude.

“Number one, I think the biggest thing about him was he was really goal oriented” Maughan says. “He knew what he wanted to do and he made decisions that went along with that. He was super energetic. We always were excited to see him play just because he always came to practice with a high energy and a really good work ethic. I think that’s something that’s carried over wherever he’s gone.”

When Bolles speaks, his attitude shines through. Spend a few minutes in his vicinity and you’ll know what Garett Bolles is all about. He’s grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to play in the NFL. Grateful for his family. And Grateful for his teammates.

In an interview with Goodman and Shapiro the day he was named the starting left tackle for the Broncos’ preseason opener against the Chicago Bears, Bolles gave some insight on how his attitude powers his work ethic.

“Every single day I’m out here earning my spot,” Bolles said. “I’ve got Ty Sambrailo and I’ve got Don Stephenson pushing me every single day, and Menelik [Watson] and Ron Leary. All of them pushing me every single day. I’ve got two tackles that come in and push me every day because they want that spot. Being a rookie, every single day you’ve got to earn the reps and you’ve got to know that the reps that you take could be your last reps of the whole season.”

Bolles takes nothing for granted. He truly believes that it if he doesn’t continue to work, it all could be taken away from him at any moment. That’s why he won’t let anyone call him a starter, even after he was named the starter against the Bears, until he feels like he’s earned the title.

“My name at the top of the depth chart doesn’t mean anything,” Bolles said. “It doesn’t mean that I’ve got my spot; it just means that the coaches trust me to go into the first game, but I’ve got four preseason games to earn my spot.”

Considering what Bolles was up against throughout training camp, earning his spot in the Broncos’ four preseason games should’ve been easy. Having to block three-time All-Pro and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller every day should’ve been the hard part, but that’s not the way Bolles looks at that either.

“There’s no walk in the park in the NFL. It’s a battle every single day,” Bolles says. “There’s 63 bombs going off and guns in the trenches and you have to be ready for it.”

Since arriving in Denver, Bolles’ greatest enemy in practice has actually turned out to be one of his best friends. The fact that they both play for the same team certainly helps, but a left tackle and a pass rusher becoming close friends isn’t something that happens every day in the NFL. Solid performances by either position can be the reason the other one winds up unemployed, but that’s not the case when it comes to Bolles and Miller.

Six years and 18 picks apart, the two first-round selections clicked from the moment Bolles became a member of the Broncos. Miller was the first player to reach out to him, and their relationship has only grown since, as Miller explained at the annual media barbecue to kick off training camp.

“I feel like I’ve known Garett for a long time,” Miller said. “When you’re talking to him, it’s kind of hard not to like Garett Bolles. If y’all have had a conversation with him, he’s just a great guy. He always wants to learn; he wants to be great, and all the greats have that type of hunger. It just happened and he’s only been here for a couple of months, so I’m excited about this season and the years that we have coming up.”

“Our relationship started off with just saying ‘hi,’ and just eventually got to the brother relationship that you always want as a teammate,” Bolles says. “I’m just beyond blessed to have a teammate like him.”

When Bolles took the field with the Broncos’ starters in the first preseason game against the Bears, it signified a few different things. Preseason or not, it was Bolles’ first NFL game. Not only was it the first NFL game he participated in, it was also the first time he’d ever witnessed an NFL game in person. It signified the final stop on his journey to the NFL. It also signified the beginning of his second stint in Colorado. Like the last time Bolles was here, he has a mission to complete.

One of the first things Maughan noticed about Bolles was how goal oriented he was before he even stepped foot on a football field. He sets goals and then doesn’t stop working until he achieves them. Through training camp, Bolles’ goal was to do whatever he had to do to improve every day he came to work. That attitude is why Maughan knows that the Broncos first-round selection will be successful in the NFL.

“He knows what he needs to do; he knows what it’s going to take, and he’s going to do it,” Maughan says.

Two schools and three football teams later, staring down the barrel of his first NFL game with the same attitude that got him back to where his football journey began, Bolles knows why he’s back.

“They drafted me for a reason, to come in and play the position that I play so that I can hold down that left side so that our quarterbacks can get rid of the ball,” Bolles says.

If his goal is to protect whomever the Broncos trot out behind him at quarterback, just like his track record shows, he’s not stopping until his mission is complete.