“It’s really amazing: A year and a half ago, I was at Snow College,” Bolles said in an interview with The Tribune. “I was trying to figure out where I was going to go and what I was going to do next. Then I went to Utah, then I went to Irvine [Calif.] to train for the draft, and now I’m in Philly, one of the greatest cities in the country. The man above has taken care of me.”
Life moves fast when you’re 6 foot 5, 300 pounds and can move and hit people like a train. Bolles is expected to become Utah’s first pick in the first round since Star Lotulelei in 2013, and the fifth first-round pick the Utes have produced in 20 years.
It’s not totally unexpected for the player who was the top-ranked junior college lineman in the country in 2016. But the speed with which Bolles has gone from troubled teen to Snow College standout to the cusp of NFL glory has been the most remarkable aspect of his story in coach Kyle Whittingham’s eyes.
“He went through some tough stretches there,” he said about Bolles. “To see what he was able to accomplish from when he joined us last May to where he is right now — it’s really incredible. He’s got great ability, freakish athlete, but his work ethic and desire is why he’s in the position he’s in now.”
Many close observers are now familiar with Bolles’ story, which he often likes to compare to Michael Oher, one of his biggest football inspirations. In jail as a teenager, he was taken in by his high school lacrosse coach, who helped turn him toward a cleaner path. After serving an LDS Church mission, Bolles came back with a desire to focus his life on an athletic career and got a shot at Snow College.
But even his Utah path wasn’t always smooth.
Bolles was a starter two weeks into the season, but he was hounded by penalties. He had unnecessary roughness, false start and holding penalties against BYU. He was all but replaced by competitor Jackson Barton in the fourth quarter.
While fans wondered if their touted prospect wasn’t turning out, within the program, coaches and teammates maintained faith in Bolles.
“It wasn’t really a huge concern for us — we knew he’d be able to settle in,” Whittingham said. “A lot of those penalties, he was just finishing blocks, that’s all he was doing. He’s just such an aggressive kid that maybe a couple of those could’ve gone either way.”
At the time, fellow lineman Isaac Asiata predicted that Bolles would go on to be “one of the best offensive linemen that’s ever come through this program.” The words ended up prophetic. Bolles was the top-rated run blocking tackle by Pro Football Focus by late October, and draft buzz already was building.
Most understood by January that he was going pro. At 24 (and turning 25 in May), Bolles already was older than most competing prospects, and Natalie gave birth to a son, Kingston, in December. It was time to put food on the table.
“We’re never going to hold a guy back if it’s in his best interest to go,” Whittingham said. “He and his family…