ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — "Absolutely not," said a gracious Garret Bolles last Friday afternoon when asked if he would be where he is today without the Freeman family.
"They're here with me today and I love them dearly," he added. "I get emotional when I talk about that family because they mean the world to me. When they picked me up off of the streets in August of 2011, it was the best thing that even happened to me. I realized what a family is, what love is, how a structured family looks and how I want to raise my son... I love them dearly so much; I give them so much credit for helping me to reach my dreams and to be standing here today."
A few feet away, the eyes of Greg Freeman began to fill with tears. The troubled kid he and his wife had taken a chance on years ago, the kid who was more likely to end up in jail than on a podium at Denver Broncos headquarters had achieved his dream.
"A lot of gratitude," Freeman said later of his feeling in that moment, now unable to keep the tears in the wells of his eyes. "God does amazing things. It wasn't Emily and I; it was God and Garett figuring out who he needed to be. I give all of the credit to Garett."
They say pit bulls are not inherently aggressive, that they simply more susceptible to bad influences. They also say a properly raised pit bull can be one of the most loyal and loving breeds.
The Freeman family saw the good in Garett "Pit" Bolles.
Greg and Emily didn't see the kid who was known on the first-name basis by the Lehigh Police Department, expelled from multiple schools, the kid who had spent nights in jail; somehow, someway, they saw something else.
[caption id="attachment_80853" align="alignright" width="300"] Greg Freeman is overcome with emotion as Garett Bolles talks about the importance of his family[/caption]
"It doesn't take long when you start talking to Garett to see that heart," Emily Freeman told BSN Denver. "It's such a big heart, and you just fall in love with him... You just can't help but love him; he's got this heart, it's such a great heart... He was a kid who just didn't really know where he was going but had a really good heart; he always had a great heart."
The story of Garett Bolles is the ultimate validation of second chances, the ultimate validation of gut feelings. Something inside the Freeman's told them to put aside Garett's past and the fact that they already had four children of their own, something told them to bring in a troubled kid who may just need a second lease on his life.
They were right.
What they found was that with a little bit of TLC, that heart of his was easily uncovered. What they found was that when given clear and specific guidelines, Garett would follow them, what they found was that along with that big heart, Garett had big dreams.
"From eighth grade on, Garett always believed that he was going to 'play in the league,'" Greg said. "Emily and I were probably the ones that always said, 'Oh come on, Garett. School is not your thing.'"
"He's been talking about this dream as long as I've known him," Emily added. "For the first years, I would tell him, 'We have to find you a new dream. I don't think this is going to work out.' He wasn't NCAA eligible—I don't know a lot about football—I kept telling him, 'We have to get you a new dream,' and he just never let it go. He never let it go."
As he grew up and grew out of his troubled youth, Garett Bolles began to develop a knack for proving people wrong.
According to his non-biological mother, he heard it all.
"You'll never graduate from high school."
"You'll spend your life behind bars."
"You won't succeed at the junior college level."
'You'll never play D-I football.'"
He did that too.
Interestingly enough, the last two people the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder had to prove wrong were the only two people who believed in him from the start.
On April 27, 2017, right around 8:25 pm, he finally did.
[caption id="attachment_81429" align="alignleft" width="300"] Natalie Bolles, wife of Garett, poses with their son Kingston[/caption]
"When that phone rang," Mrs. Freeman said, referencing John Elway's call to Garett. "I looked at him pick it up, and I thought, 'Oh my heck, he's gonna do it, he's gonna live his dream.'"
"It's been a wild ride, a great ride," Greg Freeman says, the tears coming back to his eyes. "I'm really proud. The first game at snow college, [I had tears in my eyes]. The first game when he ran out of the tunnel at the University of Utah, I got a little emotional, and last night I started feeling that intensity."
Garett Bolles has done it; he's risen from the ashes, and—against all odds—gone from a jail-bound teenager to a first-round NFL draft pick.
So what's next? Well, there were plenty of people who felt the Broncos should have gone a different direction.
"You look back and all along Garett's life, what he'll tell you has been consistent is the people who told him he couldn't," Said Emily Freeman. "He's been determined to prove people wrong since the very beginning; there's a fire in the back of his head."
"He's going to do it; he's going to live this dream."