WARRENSBURG — Central Missouri quarterback Brook Bolles has seen a lot of football played in Maryville, Missouri.
As the younger brother of Northwest Missouri State national championship quarterbacks Blake and Brady Bolles, Saturdays often meant making the trip down I-70 from Lincoln, Nebraska, before hanging a left up to the campus of the Bearcats.
For a total of 10 years, a Bolles was on the Northwest Missouri State roster, meaning there was always Bearcat football games to attend in the fall.
“Add those all up and I was probably there for all of them,” Brook said.
Saturday, Nov. 15, will the first and probably the only time the youngest of the lineage of Bolles quarterbacks will step out onto the turf at Bearcat Stadium with No. 9 Central Missouri taking on No. 12 Northwest Missouri State to end the regular season. Scheduling quirks and a pair of contests at Arrowhead Stadium have kept the game away from Maryville.
The Mules signal caller hadn’t given it much thought on the matter though as UCM prepares to go for its first outright MIAA championship since 1986 against the Bearcats.
“Maybe a little bit in the back of my mind,” Brook said. “I think it’ll be a cool atmosphere to be in. I’ve been there for so many games and I’ve never really played there. My true-freshman year we played there but I didn’t suit up.”
When Saturday rolls around, Brook will be looking to follow the example of his brothers, just on his own journey.
Brook Bolles never wanted the follow his brothers footsteps.
“Ever since I was in middle school, people would ask me are you going to go to Northwest, are you going to follow your brothers and my answer was always the same and it was no,” Brook said.
College presented a chance to remove the shadow of his older brothers and light a new path. As a multi sport starter out of North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska, Brook had his pick of where his next destination would be.
“Growing up, I went to the same middle school, elementary school, high school as all my brothers,” Brook said. “It doesn’t help that we are all ‘B’ names, so everybody was calling me Blake, Brett or Brady.”
Still, Brook visited the Bearcats, but with only a walk-on spot available at the quarterback spot during his recruiting period, the future Mules signal caller decided to take his talents to a new locale.
“I always wanted to go out on my own path and make a name for myself and not be known as Blake’s little brother or Brady’s little brother,” Brook said.
There were some perks to having a pair of college quarterbacks around the house.
“They taught me a lot about mechanics,” Brook said. “When I got into high school, we talked more about coverage and different blitz and how to protect against that. “They taught me a lot.”
The Mules, who recruited Brady before he went on to win the 2015 national championship with the Bearcats, found a second chance to get a Bolles brother down to Warrensburg in Brook.
“I always had Central in the back of my mind because I know they are a big name in D2, especially in the MIAA,” Brook said.
What sealed the deal for the Lincoln, Nebraska-native was a trip by head coach Jim Svoboda and then-offensive coordinator Josh Lamberson to see one of his high school basketball games.
“I quickly got the feeling that they were family,” Brook said.
Brook redshirted his freshman year then appeared sparingly in his first two years of eligibility before bursting on the Division II scene as a junior where he was a Harlan Hill finalist — the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
In his first year as a starter, Brook threw for 3,766 yards and 23 touchdowns leading the Mules to a 9-3 record and a Mineral Water Bowl win, setting up high expectations for his senior year.
The hands of fate
This 2019 Central Missouri football season wasn’t supposed to happen. Brook, coming off Harlan Hill finalist campaign as a junior in 2017, was supposed to play out his senior year in 2018 with today’s realities only hopes and expectations as the Mules made the five-hour bus trip to Hays, Kansas, to face the No. 5 Fort Hays in their season opener.
Brook looked the part of a seasoned five-year quarterback in the first half against the Tigers, leading the Mules to a 10-3 lead at halftime.
Then disaster, or perhaps destiny, struck.
Bolles was tackled trying to turn a broken third and long play into something, anything. When he returned to the sideline his right arm wasn’t right. He couldn’t throw the ball without pain and soon his helmet was replaced by a headset. The eventual diagnosis — a torn ulnar collateral ligament. His season was done and with it came the first losing season for the Mules under Svoboda
While the Mules offense tried to find its immediate heir to Brook, he was preparing for his eventual return.
“It gave me a whole different perspective,” Brook said. “You come in, your first few years you are on the sideline kind of getting into the offense and trying to picture what is good against them offensive-wise. And then you start for a year and then I get hurt and then I am back on the sidelines and I am really seeing little details here and there about where we could hurt the defense.”
Returning for a proper senior year, meaning a sixth season as a Mule, was always the plan.
“I don’t think there was ever any doubt,” Brook said. “As soon as I got hurt, I knew I was going to take the medical (redshirt) and come back. There was never any question about it.”
Coming back was one thing, but returning to the caliber of his 2017 season was another question.
“It was kind of a crazy rehab,” Brook said. “I didn’t know if it was ever going to get back to where it was and then once we got the ball rolling with it and got into the rehab, it started to feel better and better and now it feels better than ever.”
With the return of Brook as well as the Mules revamped defense under new defensive coordinator BJ Campbell, Central Missouri is making history. The Mules, with a 10-0 record for the first time in program history and holding a share of MIAA title for the first time since 2003, set themselves up for a collision course with dynasty up north.
The Bearcats, who are a win away from another double-digit win season — what would be their 14th in the last 15 years — come into the regular season finale with 9-1 mark.
Northwest’s lone loss — 24-17 to Nebraska-Kearney — kept Saturday’s contest from being the de facto outright conference championship game.
“We are looking at it as just another game,” Bolles said. “We are having the mindset that we’ve had all year of a nameless, faceless opponent. I feel like every year we get surrounded by the hype of Northwest and I think it’s partially because we have coaches from Northwest and I obviously look at it as a big game because I am fighting against my brothers’ team. It’s just another game, we are 10-0 trying to get to 11-0.”
It might be Brook’s brothers’ team, but come Saturday, the former Bearcats legends will have Mule logos on their clothing.
“Believe it or not, they are going to be dressed in all red,” Brook said. “They are all for it.
“My oldest brother, Blake, jokes it’s good because you only have to root against Northwest for one game a year.”
One thing is for certain, wherever a Bolles quarterback goes, program records are sure to fall.
All three Bolles rank in the top three at their respective schools in career passing yards and top five in passing touchdowns to go along with a litany of top ten single-game performances.
All three Bolles brothers have eclipsed 7,000 passing yards but it’s Blake’s 7,991 passing yards that leads the trio. Brook sits at 7,370 yards with almost 300 less attempts and one regular season and at least one playoff game remaining.
Brady is the leading rusher of the family, amassing 1,568 career rushing yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground compared to Brook’s 978 and 13 scores.
Brook is the lone brother without a national championship as Blake led the Bearcats to one in 2009 and Brady secured the ultimate trophy in 2015.
A win over Northwest on Saturday, would give all three brothers perfect seasons in the MIAA. With the Mules claiming a share of the MIAA crown against Lincoln, all three brothers now have won a conference title, though a loss against the Bearcats would place Brook with Brady as Bolles QBs with co-conference titles — Brady also has an outright title on his resume.
“We don’t want to share anything, especially an MIAA championship and personally I don’t want to share anything with those guys,” Brook said.