Each year, every NFL team nominates one of their players the "Walter Payton Man of the Year". Recipients of this award are often big name players whose accomplishments off the field rival those they perform on it. This is not the case of the Denver Broncos recipient this year; Ben Garland.
Garland is a Colorado native. He played his high school ball at Central in Grand Junction, then played his college ball at the Air Force Academy. Garland was signed by Denver as an undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA) in 2010, only to see him leave to serve his military commitment.
Garland had two life-long dreams; to play for his hometown team, the Denver Broncos, and to serve his country as a pilot in the United States Air Force. With his signing as an UDFA, he had a shot at the first ambition, but achieving the second would prove challenging.
In addition to a slew of academic requirements to be admitted into flight school, aspiring pilots must meet a few physical standards. This would present a potential bump in the road for Garland, a 6'5, 308lb road-grader.
Garland tried and failed to attain a weight waiver which would allow him to become a pilot. With this setback, Garland changed career paths, joining the 140th wing of the Colorado Air National Guard. From there, under the Palace Chase Program, Garland set his sights on playing for the Broncos a reality.
"I've been able to wear the best uniform in the world, every single day, to be a part of something I think is special," said Garland. "Now I get to wear the second-best uniform in the world, wearing that Broncos label, wearing that Broncos helmet. I've been rewarded in so many ways, I'm still striving to make it out there, to contribute, but no question I've already been rewarded in football."
His commitment to his country and to his team is often the first thing people talk about, yet one thing not often talked about when it comes to Garland is his commitment to his community.
Five years ago, Garland co-founded and serves as the Executive Director of the SoDE Solution, a nonprofit organization that aims to end sex trafficking “through sustainable and changing economic situations,” like with his current mission of making a 15-year-old Cambodian orphanage self-sustainable.
Garland's work doesn't stop there. He is a regular contributor to the Drive for Life, Hometown Huddle, events with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, the Denver Broncos Holiday Party for the Denver Rescue Mission, Make-A-Wish Foundation and more.
Garland will be honored during Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, as the Broncos will make a $10,000 donation to a charity of his choosing. His name will be submitted for consideration for the NFL’s national award, which will be announced during the week of the Super Bowl. Two finalists for the national award will be announced later this month. The winner will receive a $50,000 donation to the charity of his choice.