Summer 2024

49ers center Ben Garland thrust into starting role, centers himself on gratitude for God

MIAMI — A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a captain with the Colorado Air National Guard, 31-year-old Ben Garland thought he’d be a pilot by now. Instead, he’s taking part in his third Super Bowl. And he’s an unexpected key piece to the San Francisco 49ers offense.

He signed with the 49ers in April to be a reserve offensive lineman, and served as the team’s primary backup at both guard and center for most of the season. But in Week 14, center Weston Richburg suffered a torn patella tendon and went on IR for the rest of the season. Garland entered the game, and has been quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s center ever since.

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“Coming from the Air Force, you’re ready to adapt,” Garland recently told NBC Sports Bay Area. “So I’d always been ready every game to take on a role, whether it was left guard, right guard or center. So when he went down, I was ready to step in as a starter.”

Though Super Bowl LIV — in which the 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Miami — marks Garland’s third, he’ll receive the start and significant playing action for the first time. He was on the Denver Broncos’ practice squad for Super Bowl XLVIII, and a backup on both the offensive and defensive lines for Atlanta in Super Bowl LI three years ago.

Now he’s started the past five games, bringing his six-year career total number of starts to 14. In his most recent game, the NFC championship victory over Green Bay, Garland was instrumental in running back Raheem Mostert setting a franchise record with 220 yards on 29 rushing attempts. After one of Mostert’s four touchdowns, he gave the ball to Garland to celebrate.

“I was surprised Raheem gave me the ball,” Garland told NBC. “I’d never done something like that before: My first spike.”

Surely that moment was included in Garland’s daily “five-minute meditation of gratitude.” In speaking with Sports Spectrum on Wednesday, Garland discussed his faith in Christ and how this year has been one of personal growth.

“I’ve been doing stuff this year that never have I done before. Every night and every day I do a five-minute meditation of gratitude and just thank God for everything we have,” he said. “And it’s just changed my days around. It’s the best way to fall asleep and best way to start your day, just genuinely focusing on how thankful I am for everything I have. I start the days off better, I sleep better. It’s been great.”

Growing up as a pastor’s kid in Grand Junction, Colo., Garland says he was blessed to have faith ingrained in his life from birth. His grandfather was a spiritual mentor. In the NFL, he stays connected to the Lord largely through team Bible studies.

“Every team I’ve been a part of has had a Bible study or something where you get together — just talking to like-minded guys who are going through the same temptations, the same struggles, the same stuff. We miss out on a lot of Sundays where we’re playing ball and you miss [church], so we get those chapels before a game.

“On a lot of teams, I’ve had incredible experiences where we had these like all-star chapels; wherever we travel they seem to bring in some of the best of the best to talk to us. It’s just been unbelievable, or they bring in former NFL Pro Bowlers and share their testimonies. So it’s been a real blessing to my faith,” he said.

Sharing his testimony and journey with Christ is often how Garland connects with teammates. He believes sharing about his faith in Jesus is an important part of being a Christian and encouraging others.

“You get those connections where a lot of times you didn’t expect it. Somebody shares what they went through and then you have that connection of like, ‘I’ve been through that. I understand where you’re coming from,’ and it draws them closer in a sense,” he says. “A lot of times that really makes you draw closer to the Lord.”

In growing closer to God this year through his gratitude meditations, Garland is finding grace in not being perfect.

“You look at the Bible and you see the heroes of the Bible and they messed up in so many ways. You look at Saul, he was persecuting Christians all throughout, and then he literally wrote half the Bible,” Garland said. “There are so many people who worry about, ‘Oh, what I’ve done, I’ve gone too far. Or I haven’t done enough.’ Look at the Bible, man. He took the people that you never expected and had them change the world.

“So He can use you to do some incredible things. It’s like me, I’m a Christian but I continue to mess up every day.”

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