By John Van Winkle
Academy Public Affairs
Falcon Football’s unstoppable force has signed a free-agent contract with the Denver Broncos to become that football team’s next immovable object.
This newest Denver Bronco is the Air Force Academy’s senior defensive lineman Ben Garland, who signed with the Broncos Monday.
Garland, a 6′ 5″, 290-pound starter at nose tackle for the Air Force Academy during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, was an anchor of the Falcons’ nationally ranked defense for the past two seasons. Garland earned second-team all-conference honors in 2009 while leading one of the top defensive units in the country.
He led the Falcons in tackles for loss with 10.5 for 46 yards and sacks with 4.5 for 30 yards. Garland recorded 45 total tackles and two pass breakups and a forced fumble. He also blocked two kicks, field goals vs. New Mexico and BYU. Garland wreaked havoc on opposing teams while playing most of the 2009 season with a broken left hand.
Despite his cast, he didn’t miss playing time. With Garland at the center of the defensive line, the Air Force defense allowed just 15.7 points per game to rank second in the Mountain West Conference and 10th nationally. The Falcons gave up just 288.3 yards per game in total defense which was second in the conference and 11th in the nation, including allowing just 154.3 yards passing per game to lead the conference and rank fifth nationally.
Garland got his first call from the Broncos a week before the draft, but they were already sizing him up for their roster as a defensive end in their 3-4 defensive alignment.
“The Broncos also attended my pro day, where I do not believe I performed that well – but Nick Charles, Chris Thomas, and Reggie Rembert really shined,” Garland said. “Denver showed its real interest during the seventh round of the draft and told me that they wanted to sign me as a free agent after the draft.”
The New Orleans Saints also came calling during the seventh round of the NFL Draft. Several other teams showed interest, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings, but it was the Saints and the Broncos who wanted to sign him. Garland weighed the options and chose the Broncos because his family would be closer and could come to see him play much easier, and there are several military bases up and down the Front Range where he might be able to work an assignment. The Broncos signed him on Monday.
“I was ecstatic! This was a dream come true for me,” Garland said. “When I was little I had two dreams: I had a dream to play football for the Denver Broncos and a dream to be an officer in the United States Air Force. With this opportunity, I will be able to play for my dream team while not only serving in the Air Force but contributing to the Air Force’s mission in a meaningful way. This opportunity to play for the Broncos will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, but the opportunity to serve my country will be by far more meaningful.”
Garland, a native of Grand Junction, Colo., has been a Broncos fan all his life.
“When they won Super Bowl XXXII versus the Packers, I tried to convince my mom to drive me up to Denver to be in the parade,” he said.
His Air Force football coach was not surprised that the NFL was interested. Falcons head football coach Troy Calhoun coached at the professional level, including positions with the Broncos from 2003-2005 and working as the Houston Texans’ offensive coordinator in 2006 before taking over his current job at the Academy.
“Ben Garland has been an outstanding cadet at the Air Force Academy,” Coach Calhoun said. “I know Ben, like so many young men who were terrific college football players, also holds a dream to one day play in the NFL. I completely back Ben’s priorities of earning his commission as an Academy graduate in five weeks, serving as a fine officer in the world’s best Air Force, and in the future, pursuing a possible opportunity to play in NFL regular season and playoff games.”
Department of Defense policy requires military academy graduates to serve at least 24 months on active duty before applying for an early release. If granted, Garland will fulfill the remaining three years of his active-duty service commitment by joining the Air Force Reserves for six years.
Garland will report to the Denver Broncos Thursday for the team’s first rookie minicamp.