ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos rookies reported for minicamp Friday, including a defensive lineman who has actually been on the team for two years.
Ben Garland has had a unique journey into the NFL.
“Ever since I was little, since I was five-years-old, I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy and play football for them,” the Colorado native told us.
Garland grew up and did just that. He was a standout defensive lineman for the Falcons, which put him in a unique position when he graduated.
He was clearly good enough to play in the NFL.
“In 2010, around the 7th round (of the draft), I got a call from Denver. (They) signed me as a free agent. I was really excited….got to spend 60 days of leave at training camp…got to play in first four preseason games. I was in Tim Tebow’s draft class (and) Eric Decker, Demariyus Thomas.”
But Garland had to leave the team to serve his country and fulfill his commitment to the Air Force. As a graduate of the Air Force Academy, Garland had a five year commitment.
“It’s one of those things…you’ve got to honor your commitments,” he explained. “I understood when I went to the Academy that was my mission. My number one priority was the Air Force.”
In the Air Force, Garland was a strength and conditioning trainer. He went to defense information school, and also served as a public affairs officer.
After two years, he requested permission to get out early. The Secretary of the Air Force granted him early release, with one condition.
“As long as I’m going into a career field where I can gain public affairs benefits for the Air Force or recruiting benefits for the Air Force. Working in the NFL, I might have this opportunity, like right now…to be on TV and show the Air Force how great it is and how much I love it.”
During that two year period, the Broncos held Garland’s spot, putting him on military reserve.
“It’s a great tribute to our armed forces training our young men,” said Broncos head coach John Fox. “He’s been in good hands the past couple of years. He’s no stranger to working hard and giving great effort…I’ve found those qualities amount to a pretty good football player.”
Fox says he’s not worried about Garland’s two years away from the game.
“You may have to bring the WD-40 out and get the rust off, but I think given that effort and that work ethic, his determination will override some of that time away.”
Garland isn’t worried either.
“It gave me a lot of skills other guys won’t have,” he believes. “You understand teamwork and leadership ability the Air Force gives you…that will give you an advantage.”
Another advantage of the two years away: showing up just weeks after the Broncos signed Peyton Manning.
“Being here in general is absolutely amazing…being a Colorado kid…being at Denver Broncos, even if this only lasts a few weeks, I’m happy to be here.”