Air Force graduate Ben Garland (below) was named as the Atlanta Falcons’ nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award on Thursday, the same day he drew the first start of his NFL career.
Garland, who played on the defensive line at Air Force, started at left guard for the Falcons in a 20-17 victory over New Orleans.
This is the second Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nomination for Garland, who also took the honor for the Denver Broncos in 2014.
Other nominations for the award this year are J.J. Watt, who raised millions for Houston after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, and Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
The winner will be announced on Feb. 3.
Garland, who continues to serve in the Air Force reserves, was not the only academy athlete, past or present, to earn major recognition on Thursday.
Lance Pilch receives NCAA Silver Anniversary Award
Six former college athletes were awarded the NAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes individuals 25 years after the conclusion of their college careers. Among them were former NCAA baseball standout Lance Pilch.
Pilch, now a Brigadier General in the Air Force, was a two-time academic All-American with the Falcons as he hit .343 in his career. He has since gone on to a decorated military career that included the worldwide No. 1 pilot ranking for the F-16 in 2002.
Former Colorado football player Jim Hansen was also honored. Hansen was a Rhodes Scholar who now serves as the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Marine Meteorology Division, where he leads a team of 120 scientists, engineers and support personnel and oversees a $35 million annual budget.
Soccer star Julie Foudy (Stanford) and former Broncos kicker Jason Elam (Hawaii) were also among the six honorees.
Soccer midfielder Tucker Bone named first-team All-American
Air Force junior midfielder Tucker Bone (left) became the program’s third first-team All-American selection in its 61-year history when he was named among the top NCAA Division I players by the United Soccer Coaches on Thursday.
Senior midfielder Oscar Chacon, a third-team pick, was also honored. The Falcons hadn’t had a soccer player earn All-America status in 20 years.
Air Force went 14-3-3 this year, falling to Virginia Tech 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament.