SALT LAKE CITY — Garett Bolles, the offensive tackle from the University of Utah, flew to Philadelphia with his coach and family members this week for Thursday’s NFL draft. By the end of the day, the former garage-door repairman will likely be a multi-millionaire. He is projected to be taken in the first round, which is why he is among the 22 players who were invited to attend the draft.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Bolles. “I’m more excited than nervous.”
It’s the latest chapter in a strange young football career that had starts and stops and detours. Add him to the list of players who have taken strange paths to the NFL from Utah schools over the years.
Mike Anderson did not play football in high school; he played in the marching band. He took up the game while serving a four-year stint in the Marines. He became a star running back for the University of Utah and a second-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos. He was the 2000 NFL Rookie of the Year.
Ziggy Ansah grew up in Africa. He ran track for BYU and talked his way into a tryout for the football team even though he had never played the game. He had to be shown how to put on a uniform. He was the fifth pick of the 2013 NFL draft and now plays for the Detroit Lions.
Utah State’s Cornell Green and Utah’s Manny Hendrix played college basketball instead of football. Green was drafted — by the NBA. Both Green and Hendrix wound up playing defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys as undrafted free agents.
John Madsen never played football until he tried out for the Snow College team. He played wide receiver for Utah and tight end for the Oakland Raiders for two seasons as an undrafted free agent.
Now along comes Bolles. He played only one year of Division I football. Already 25 — old by NFL rookie standards — he took a long, unlikely and troubled road to reach employment in the NFL. His story is well-known by now: Kicked out of five schools during his teen years. Got in trouble with the law. Wound up in jail. Used drugs. His redemption began when he was kicked out of the family home by his father, leaving him on the street with all his possessions in plastic garbage bags.
Greg and Emily Freeman, Bolles’ lacrosse coach and his wife, took him into their home, albeit with strict rules. He turned his life around. After graduating from Westlake High, Bolles worked in a garage door repair business for a couple of years and then served an LDS Church mission. By the time he returned to the game, he had been out of football for almost four years.
He played one season for Snow College. It’s difficult to quantify the play of an offensive lineman, so let’s just put it this way: When is the last time you heard of an offensive lineman being named Offensive Player of the Year for a conference or even a team, for that matter? He was awarded that honor in 2015 for the Western States Football League. He also was named a JC All-American.
In his one and only season of D-I football, he was named first-team All-Pac 12, and then declared for the draft. Underclassmen can submit their names to an NFL advisory committee to rate their draft prospects to help them decide if they should leave school early.
Bolles says he was rated as a second-round pick, but he has surpassed that grade since then. He dazzled scouts at the NFL Combine with athleticism that is rare in a man who is 6-foot-5, 300 pounds. He could become the eighth player in school history to be drafted in the first round.
“We had all 32 teams here for our Pro Day,” says Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “That might be the first time that’s happened since Alex Smith (2005).”
Bolles is the primary draw, although it seems likely Utah will have several players taken in this year’s draft (eight Ute players were invited to the NFL Combine this spring; if all of them are drafted, that would break the school record for draft picks in a single draft — seven in 2010). Many project the tackle-needy Denver Broncos to draft Bolles (he was interviewed by a Denver radio show Monday).
“The Broncos like him — lots of teams like Garett,” says Whittingham.
You can ask Whittingham where Bolles will be drafted or how many Utes will be drafted, but you’ll get nowhere. “I’ve given up trying to speculate,” he says. “It’s too hard to project. You’ll have one guy getting all kinds of attention (from scouts) and then he doesn’t get drafted. Then there’s another guy no one talks to and he gets drafted.”
Says Bolles, “The good Lord knows where I’m going to get drafted. I’m ready to get to my city and start playing.”