Each week of the season DenverBroncos.com will highlight the off-field contributions of a Denver Bronco. This week we talked to offensive lineman Ben Garland, who was honored this week as the Denver Broncos 2014 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, which is a prestigious award that historically recognizes a player for outstanding leadership both on the field and in the community. *
You are always seen encouraging your teammates to sign up for community events, why is it so important for you as an NFL player to give back to the community?
"I think just growing up here in Colorado—I want to give back to the community as much as I can. I remember being a little kid and a few Broncos players did events for me and that was all I could talk about for months. Just to have the opportunity to take a few hours and have a major effect on a kid's life—I want to do as much as I can."
You grew up rooting for the Broncos, what is it like to now be one of those Broncos players out in the community?
"Unbelievable. Just to see the way the kids look at us—the way I used to look at [former QB] John Elway or any of the guys that I used to follow as a kid—seeing that and seeing how it makes their day, brings smiles to their faces, means everything to me."
What have been some of your favorite Broncos community events to participate in?
"I love most of the events, especially the ones where we get to play with kids—the Play 60, any of the ones with Playworks. I love the opportunity to get out there and have fun and show them how fun it can be to get involved in sports and get out there and play."
Who was an NFL player who you looked up to for his community work and leadership?
"[Denver Broncos Ring of Fame WR] Rod Smith actually came down to Grand Junction, Colo. where I grew up and he pulled me out of the stands during a community basketball game against our police force and he made me shoot hoops with them—I took his free throws. I always remember that, him grabbing me out of the stands, him picking me! That was when they had just won Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII, they were coming off big wins so that meant the world to me."
**What did Rod Smith say to you when you told him he had done that, and now you've come full circle to be on the team?
Check out photos from Friday's practice.
"He'll come back and give speeches to the team. I remember one time he told me it made him feel old. He was like, 'Wow that makes me feel really old that you're on the team.'"
You did a number of high school football visits as part of the Broncos High School Game of the Week series, why was that something you wanted to get involved in?
"I want to get that pride in Colorado football and that competition. I played Colorado football and a lot of people talk trash and say it's not competitive. I played—it's competitive. I want to get it where more people talk about Colorado football and the more we can promote it and get it going, and try to get more kids from Colorado into the NFL, the better."
Do you think spending time in the community helps put things in perspective for you and your teammates?
"Absolutely. You see the types of things people are going through, you go to these hospital visits and there are these little kids with amazing attitudes that inspire you. They have terminal cancer or have lost a limb and at the same time they seem more motivated and happy for the day than you are to go out to practice. You're like, 'Wow!' If they can do that I can do anything."
How did you get involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and what has that been like for you?
"I love the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Being able to give a wish to a little kid, what a cool opportunity—especially when the kids have been through so, so much. Just to make a dream come true—literally—what a cool experience. So any way that we can get involved with that, I know a lot of guys get involved with fundraising as well as making wishes come true here pretty much things like once a week."
How did your foundation the SoDE Solution come to be?
"Originally it just started as a school project. It was something that we were interested in doing, but it was just one of those culminating projects. As we developed it and we looked into it, we saw a serious need around the world and at the same time we thought this was a legitimate opportunity to help out around the world. It's more business as a mission, it's an opportunity to develop and fix and be a solution. We're not throwing money at it. We're actually solving areas and building the economy and really trying to fix something. So I love it, it's really cool."
Tell us about the orphanage in Cambodia you are working on to create sustainable changes through SoDE Solution.
"We're working on that (orphanage)—and what a cool thing to be able to give electricity to an orphanage of kids. The things you hear them going through, and we're trying to develop it so that it's fully functional and sustainable on their own. We want to have an aqua farm so at the same time they develop their own food, develop their own water and everything is completely self-sustainable. That way you don't have to constantly donate to this orphanage to make it sustainable, they're going to be sustaining it themselves."
This particular orphanage has survived on very few resources for 15 years, was that a factor in picking it as a great project for SoDE Solution?
"So few resources. And we don't want to go in there and say, 'Hey, here's some food and water that you're going to go through in a month.' We want to say, 'Here's a farm. Here's something you can develop and make money with so you can be sustainable for the long term.' And hopefully as the economy grows there won't be a need for an orphanage and stuff like that."
Follow @BroncosOffField, the official Twitter account of Denver Broncos Community Development, for more information about the off-field efforts of our Broncos. Be a Champion in the Community!