ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If there's one thing you need to know about Garett Bolles, it's that his first instinct is protecting quarterbacks — and apparently that doesn't only apply to Broncos quarterbacks.
After Wednesday's practice with the Chicago Bears this week, Bolles embraced Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as most players had retreated to their respective locker rooms. But it was more than just a brief reunion. As Trubisky picked up 1-year-old Kingston Bolles and played with him, it became evident that this friendship between the two 2017 NFL Draft first-rounders was more than just a casual connection.
"That man's like my brother," Bolles says. "I love him dearly and I know he loves me too, and that's just how we are. Every chance we get to hang out with each other, he plays with Kingston. Kingston knows him as 'Uncle Mitch.'"
A day later, Uncle Mitch returned to see the Bolles family after practice again, lifting Kingston high into the air, and as Garett approached, the two began talking to see if they'd have a chance to hang out at some point before Saturday's game for perhaps a chance to reminisce over the days when they first met and when they neared their NFL dreams.
Their paths diverged on April 27, 2017, as they knew they would.
Bolles, Trubisky and 20 other top prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft were gathered in the green room for the first night of the draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, waiting anxiously with family and friends.
Each young man had a table each with about eight extra seats for people they wanted to invite. Bolles' table was filled out by his adopted parents, Emily and Greg Freeman; his birth father, Grove; a couple of Garett's coaches from the University of Utah; his wife, Natalie; her parents; and, of course, Garett and Natlie's infant son, Kingston.
And just a table away was Trubisky and his family.
It was just fitting that even on that night, they wouldn't be far from each other. After all, they were side by side for the training process that led them to this point.
"We trained together, me and Mitch Trubisky, and ever since the day we saw each other down in training, we just became really close friends," Bolles says.
The two had the same agent at REP1, but more than that, it was the kind of youthful, instantaneous friendship that just seems to be natural, and as they trained, they tried to help one another become even better football players.
"[Were they] connected? Yup," Emily Freeman says. "From the very beginning, Garett and Mitch were in that same class coming in — and I don't know if you've talked a lot to Garett, but he is very passionate about protecting quarterbacks. So that is how that relationship began. It's just with that — with Garett just wanting this intense protection for a quarterback in the family. They would spend a lot of time together. … Before the draft happened, [it would be] Mitch talking to Garett about protection and what that looked like, and Garett also talking to Mitch, both of them just helping try to improve each other, clear back before any of them were in the NFL."
Back on draft night, they and their families sat at their tables, waiting not quite in silence but waiting anxiously all the same. The food provided for the room sat mostly untouched, Bolles recalls — everyone was too nervous to eat.
"You're sitting there at the table waiting to hear [your name]," Bolles says.
Trubisky, as a top quarterback prospect, would get the call first of the two. But there was little consensus on his destination before the Bears made the trade up to No. 2 that night. Mock drafts put Cleveland as the most likely destination — but at the 12th-overall pick, not first overall. So when Chicago made their move to draft Trubisky, many viewers and analysts were surprised.
But the Bolles family wasn't.
"I knew he was going to go high," Bolles says. "I knew he was the best quarterback in the draft — 100 percent, I knew. I saw it: the way he worked, the way he held himself, what he had to do. And him going to Chicago was perfect."
Emily Freeman knew it, too.
"We came in knowing that Mitch was going to go in one of those top two spots," she says. "As we came in and we watched, we almost set aside what we were waiting for and what we were hoping for, just to be able to support and celebrate the Trubisky family as they were going through that process. Watching them go through that and just the joy on their family's faces as they celebrated that. But I also will never forget going over once he had hugged his mom and his dad and they were walking around that table and I turned around and Mitch's mom changed it up, but we just gave each other a big hug."
"That was another big thing," Bolles says, "knowing he got drafted and saw how excited I was to see him go No. 2 overall and how happy I saw his mom and his dad and his brothers. I was so excited for them."
Bolles' own selection didn't have the same drama, but the reception from the Trubiskys was the same, as they and other REP1 clients and families joined together for a celebratory dinner after the first night of the draft concluded.
"Being there in Philadelphia on a special night with our families, it was awesome," Bolles says. "My family is really close to his, and his family is really close to mine. And that's how it's always going to be."
Freeman, who was seated across the table from Jeanne Trubisky, felt the same way. Though their sons had just joined the NFL that night, Freeman knew that the bond they shared and this jubilant night they shared as mothers would be something she'd treasure forever.
"There is something about that connection with moms in those moments of the stress that comes with the NFL and then also the success that comes in the NFL and being able to share that with another heart who understands those same concerns you have for a son," Freeman says. "I won't forget those moments, and I think we connect in those moments. That was a fun night to share with their family and a memory I won't ever forget."
Bolles and Trubisky may have become friends because they share an agent and because they trained for the NFL Draft together, but that's not the only commonality.
"Garett will tell you that there are three things that are most important in his life," Freeman says. "[They are] faith, family and football. That is what he adheres to. He clings to those three things. Faith, family and football is what motivates every decision he makes, everything that he does on the field. And the nice thing about the Trubisky family is they are very similar in those family values."
Trubisky, obviously, found it easy to become part of the Bolles family because of that, and vice versa. That bond can be seen in the football-watching habits of each family, Freeman says: the Bolles family watches Trubisky's games and cheers for him, and the Trubisky family watches Bolles' games and cheers for him, too.
"To see our childhood dreams come to life at the same time and now playing in the NFL, just living our dreams, it's awesome," Trubisky says. "I love Garett and his family, so we're just going to continue that relationship for a long time."
For Trubisky and Bolles during the season, maintaining that connection means texting one another, usually after games. As former first-round picks, they also share the burden of high expectations, so whenever they can, they'll share advice they think the other could use.
On Saturday, though, they won't need to text at all. They'll be able to share those moments in real time from across the field, and then when the game is over, the Bolles family will again be able to reunite with Uncle Mitch.