No-fly zone: Central grad Garland a key part of Air Force’s stout pass defense

Being on the cover of a magazine or guide usually is a jinx.

Not so for Air Force Academy nose guard Ben Garland.

The Central High School graduate, who is on the cover of the Air Force football media guide this year, made the All-Mountain West Conference second team and the Phil Steele Magazine All-Mountain West Conference first team.

He anchors a defense that led the nation in pass defense — limiting opponents to 148.67 yards per game. The Falcons (7-5) are 10th in total defense (248.45 yards per game).

Garland, a senior who changed his name from Hildebrand after he graduated high school, leads Air Force against the nation’s best passing team in the Houston Cougars (10-3) in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at 10 a.m. on Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. The game will be televised on ESPN.

It will be the third time the teams meet in the past two years, including Houston’s 34-28 victory in the 2008 Armed Forces Bowl.

The Cougars, who are ranked 25th in the USA Today Coaches Poll, average 450 passing yards a game and 581.23 yards in total offense a game. Junior quarterback Case Keenum was selected to the Walter Camp All-America team three weeks ago.

“They have great pass protection and one of the best scrambling QBs in nation,” Garland said. “He never takes his eyes off his receivers. It’s hard to get sacks on this guy. If you don’t get pressure, he will complete his throws.

“We need him back of his heels and feel pressure on him. We’ve got to get him off rhythm.”

Garland (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) was eighth in the conference in tackles for a loss with 10.5 and led the Falcons in sacks with 4.5. He blocked two field goal attempts this season as well.

He accomplished that despite playing with a soft cast on his broken left hand for most of the season.

“Ben Garland is a magnificently stout young man all the way around,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said in a press release. “He is a great competitor, bright and is physically and mentally tough. When you get a chance to play, coach or just be around Ben Garland, you are with a special young man.”

Despite all of his commitments, not only to the football program, Garland remained committed to his family.

“Earlier this season, Ben played on a Thursday night, had a meeting on Friday and drove over here to see his brother play Friday night then drove back to Colorado Springs for meetings with the team Saturday morning,” Central defensive coordinator Tony Santy said. “He wore his Central High School letter jacket.”

“Ben was special,” Central head coach Vern McGee said. “He knew he wanted to go to Air Force when he was a freshmen (in high school). It was a neat thing. We talked about the commitment. He knew early on what he wanted to do. He looks great. He’s a man.”

Although Garland grew up in Grand Junction, he would attend Air Force games with his grandfather, including some away games.

He could’ve played football at other Division I schools, but his dream was always to play for the Falcons.

“This has been one of the greatest experiences,” Garland said. “I’ve gone through stuff no one can imagine. You go through things other teams don’t go through and face challenges other don’t.

“We come down here (to the gym) at 5 a.m. and do sprints. One time a guy went to puke and another puked on his head.”

He is looking forward to the challenge in his final football game, but admits it’s tough to accept.

Garland hopes to be a graduate assistant coach next fall while beginning pilot training.


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