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Q&A: Ben Garland talks Air Force, d-line, o-line, pro policy and the Super Bowl

March 8, 2017 Updated: March 9, 2017 at 3:40 pm
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photo - Air Force graduate Ben Garland, a two-way lineman for the Atlanta Falcons, talks with the academy's football team following Tuesday's spring practice. BRENT BRIGGEMAN, THE GAZETTE
Air Force graduate Ben Garland, a two-way lineman for the Atlanta Falcons, talks with the academy's football team following Tuesday's spring practice. BRENT BRIGGEMAN, THE GAZETTE 

Fresh from an appearance in the Super Bowl, Ben Garland made an appearance at Air Force’s football practice on Tuesday.

The 2010 academy graduate and two-way lineman for the Atlanta Falcons addressed the full team, talking of the “Brotherhood” at the academy that’s unlike anything found at any other level of football.

After that, he conducted about an hour-long clinic with the defensive linemen that was so hands-on there are probably several of them currently sporting large bruises.

The clinic was about as detailed as it gets, with Garland demonstrating football and techniques he’s used as a two-way NFL defensive lineman – something that rarely exists anymore.

“I don’t know how often, or ever again in this century, you’ll see a guy play double-digit snaps on offense and defense and a lineman,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “And just the best dude.

“You don’t know whether be all jacked up and fired up, which you are, or just cry. The chills that go up and down your arms and your neck and the whole bit, just because you couldn’t have any better role model. For all of us.”

After the appearance, Garland spoke with The Gazette’s Brent Briggeman.

 

What brought you out to the academy today?

I just flew back in from a charity tour we did in Europe and I was headed to see my grandparents and first opportunity to see Air Force football you’ve got to drive in here. I hit up some of the guys – I’ve worked with them before – so I texted them and said, ‘When’s your practice? I’d love to talk with you and work with you a little bit.’ Like Air Force guys they were absolutely ready to get some more work done.

After watching you out there, is coaching in your future?

I’d love to be a coach. I’ve very passionate about it. Especially something like this (at Air Force). If I ever got an opportunity like this, it would be incredible.

The knowledge is what stood out, to be able to play both sides and then teach it…

Unbelievable amount of studying. But the more you learn, the easier it gets. The more I learn about what I’m trying to stop on one side, the more you learn about what to do on the other side. The more you learn what’s hard for me on one side, the more I learn what to do against someone. ‘Oh, I hate blocking this?’ I’m going to do it against someone. Or vice versa, when someone does this against me and blocks me as a d-lineman, I’m going to do this against them as on o-lineman.

When you’re able to gain that kind of perspective by playing both sides, are you surprised more guys don’t at least dabble in both to learn the same things?

 Not at all, just because of muscle memory. It’s so reverse of each other. Offensive line is so much about balance and being back, being set and you’re always in these awkward positions but perfectly under control. Whereas d-lineman you can be athletic and lunge and be out over your toes. Trying to maintain that muscle memory and switch sides is so incredibly difficult. I’m constantly fighting my own brain. Being on d-line being able to move and lunge and get overextended over my body and then going back to o-line and making sure not to do that and sitting back tight and getting my shoulders back and being perfectly balanced… because when you see someone you want to strike ‘em and get out. But you’re like, ‘Wait, I’m back on offense. It’s a different strike.’ Finding that is so hard.

Do you think you’ll settle into one spot, or now that you’ve done both do you prefer being the Swiss Army knife?

I love being the Swiss Army knife. I’ve gotten to play in a game at tackle, tight end, left guard, right guard, center, defensive end, nose guard… I’ve played a little bit of everything and I love it. But it’s a little bit of extra work, but I think that’s why these guys, if they get the opportunity in the NFL, they’ll do so well because they’ve learned how to study. They’ve learned to go above and beyond and manage their time. These guys are doing their sammies at 4 a.m. on Saturday, whereas other college guys are recovering from their hangover.

So where are you at now? I saw they “tendered” you, but what exactly does that mean?

I means I get to be a Falcon for another year. They have exclusive rights. I don’t have a fourth accrued season, so they have the ability to offer me a contract and I don’t really have any choice about it, and I’m glad because I was really really hoping to go back to Atlanta.

The pro policy is such a big topic of conversation here now, and you’re as qualified as anyone to talk about it. If someone like Jalen Robinette goes pro immediately after graduation, I’m curious what he can contribute to the Air Force. You’ve been in those shoes. You’ve been in the Super Bowl. How many media outlets were you talking to and did you mention Air Force in all of those interview?

Absolutely. I talked to not only tons of reporters, but I talked internationally to so many people from all over the world. I’ve talked to people in my hometown, people from all over, and people thought it was interesting that I was in the Air Force. … I think the leadership and ability to make a quick decision under pressure that effects 11 lives immediately. I mean, it’s not war, but that’s leadership. You become a leader out on a field and you learn the leadership qualities that can help you become a great Air Force officer. If we allow one or two guys every few years to go to the NFL but in turn gain a few incredible officers who otherwise would have attempted NFL pursuits elsewhere … it’s absolutely worth it to let one guy go be a star. And, just talking about morale, I have so many guys tell me around the world, ‘Hey, I love seeing an Air Force guy, somebody who went through what I went through, out there playing.’ That means a lot to me because I know how much work they’re putting in.

What does a typical day look like for you now with the National Guard?

It all depends on the job. For me, I’m a public affairs officer. So, doing absolutely everything I can to get the message out and let the public know what we’re doing.

And, finally, are you over the Super Bowl loss yet?

No. Not at all. I’m going to go workout right now and think about it.

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