The timing of Ben Garland's first appearance for the Denver Broncos was so perfect it would be easy to think it had been planned.
Garland, a backup offensive lineman and special teams blocker, graduated from Air Force in 2010 and is an active member of the Colorado Air National Guard. After two years of service he spent the past two seasons on the Broncos' practice squad before making the 53-man roster this year. Garland was inactive for the team's first eight games but was called up Sunday, where he made his first professional appearance in the team's win over the Oakland Raiders.
It also happened to be the NFL's Salute to Service Day in advance of Veterans Day, which made for a nice coincidence.
I can't stop smiling. I got to play in a game, we beat the raiders and it was military appreciation day. #blessed
— Ben Garland (@BenGarland63) November 10, 2014
Making the appearance all the more special for Garland is the fact that he's a Colorado native and grew up rooting for the Broncos.
"That was awesome," Garland said after the Broncos' 41-17 thrashing of the Raiders. "That my first game came on service day, that meant a little more to me."
After starring as a defensive lineman at Air Force, Garland spent two years in active service: The first as an instructor at the Air Force Academy and the second as a public affairs officer for the 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
In making his way back to the NFL, Garland had to prove he had stayed in shape after two years away from the sport. Then he had to prove himself again when he was asked to switch from defensive line to offensive line.
"Ben is just a guy that's got that determination like no other and when he moved over from the defensive line to the offensive line, he's very bright, he's tough, and just worked his tail off to earn a spot on the team," Denver vice president of football operations John Elway said before the season. "So he's just going to continue to get better and better too because he hasn't been over there ... ."
With Will Montgomery, normally the team's backup center/guard, called in to starting duty Sunday, Garland took Montgomery's role as backup and on special teams. Garland even had a special sticker on his helmet representing the Air Force:
Garland said he questioned whether he would be able to play in the NFL following his two-year service, but his dreams overcame doubt.
"You always have those tough days, especially those days having my alarm clock go off at 4 in the morning for my workout before work and then go to my workout after work," Garland told ESPN. "You're thinking I have a great career here in the Air Force. It's tough for people to become an officer, not a lot of people get this opportunity. Why would you give that up for this small, small chance that you could ever make it in the NFL? Being an officer or this tiny, slim chance of the NFL? But once you decide to go for your dreams you have to go after them."