DENVER — As a high school senior in Grand Junction, Benjamin Nicholas Garland put himself in an advanced math course. Calculus II, I think it was.
He attended all of the classes and did all of the homework. And he received no credit.
Garland wasn’t enrolled in the course; he simply went, just because.
"Benji wanted to know the material in case he needed it later on," said his mom, Syndee Garland.
Benji also joined a show choir. Yes, this is the same 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive lineman on the Denver Broncos practice squad. He once sang and danced on stage.
Benji also joined Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Future Business Leaders of America. As a senior he attended tryouts for the varsity basketball team and made the roster. He hadn’t played basketball since the eighth grade.
Benji had been told basketball would improve his footwork for playing at the line of scrimmage. Most important, Benji knew a long list of extracurriculars — show choir, FCA, FBLA, whatever acronym the school offered — would allow him the best chance of being accepted into the Air Force Academy.
And he was accepted into the Air Force Academy. He played four years of football. He's now a public affairs officer in the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard.
“Once a Falcon, always a Falcon,” he said.
There are countless things to appreciate about Ben Garland.
Topping the list: If there’s a way, he makes it happen.
Let’s be honest. The odds are piled high against Garland achieving his new goal — making the Broncos' 53-man roster.
"In a perfect world, I would stay with the Broncos as long as I can,” he said.
In my perfect football world, Benji one day will play for the Broncos on Sundays. He will follow Lance Ball, Tony Carter and Mitch Unrein as former practice squad members now playing on Sundays. Three former players — Dwayne Carlswell, Tom Nalen and Rod Smith — went from the Broncos' practice squad to the Pro Bowl.
And haven’t we learned at least one thing about Garland?
Benji sacks the odds. With his history in mind, I would be more surprised if Garland doesn’t play for the Broncos on Sundays than if he does.
"He's always been extremely motivated when he has a goal in mind,” said Hal Garland, his grandfather, a 27-year Air Force man who served from Korea to the Philippines.
It was that way when his grandfather took Benji to Air Force football practices. Benji announced to family he would play for the Falcons. He was 8.
"In high school the Navy tried to get him,” his mom said. "He goes, 'Heck no.'"
It was that way when Benji hung posters of John Elway and Terrell Davis in his childhood bedroom in Grand Junction. His mom recently sent him a text message that read: “If I had told that one day you would be practicing for the Broncos and John Elway would be watching you from the sideline, you would never have believed me.”
Benji wrote back: “You’re right about that.”
Don’t bet against Benji.
“As a defensive player on the scout team, I’m going against the best quarterback in the game every day,” he said. “If going against Peyton Manning doesn’t make you better, I don’t know what does.”
Benji once sent the Air Force a medical form with his measurables. Birthdate. Weight. Shoe size. Soon after, a woman called the family to say his application had been declined.
“The lady kept saying, ‘Oh, the poor little thing. He’ll get in somewhere,’” his mom recalled.
Little? With a size-16 shoe?
Under "Height," the doctor had written 63.
"She thought it meant 63 inches. Not 6-foot-3."
The numbers suggest Garland, as a member of the practice squad, won't make the 53-man roster. Denver played and beat Oakland on Thursday. The Broncos had this weekend off. Most players got away, some with family, some to relax, some to Las Vegas.
Benji went to the Dove Valley practice facility.
"I wear the two best uniforms in the world — the Denver Broncos and the Air Force."
If there’s a way, Benji makes it happen.