Bengals TE Utecht gets a different reception

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Ben Utecht, a tight end for the Cincin­nati Ben­gals, has just released a self-titled CD, and describes his music as a Chris­tian fusion of pas­sion­ate vocals (think Josh Groban) with a con­tem­po­rary side to it. Pho­to spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

Being injured is noth­ing new to Cincin­nati Ben­gals tight end Ben Utecht, who missed Sunday’s game again­st the Bron­cos with a con­cus­sion. But what Utecht does know is that good things result­ed from his past injury — a sports her­nia his senior year at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta led to him being signed by the Indi­anapolis Colts, and because of his Indy con­nec­tions some “amaz­ing” doors are open­ing for him. Not only in foot­ball, but in the music indus­try. Utecht, a bud­ding Chris­tian musi­cian, recent­ly released his first CD, a self-titled soft rock wor­ship record on Sandi Patty’s new label, Sty­los Records. In a Q&A ses­sion, Utecht explains his jour­ney from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta to the Super Bowl to Nashville.

Q: Com­ing out of col­lege, you were not draft­ed.

A: No, not draft­ed. I was sup­pose to be from 15th to 42nd pick and I had a seri­ous injury my senior year, a pret­ty bad sports her­nia, and it took me out of the draft. It was crush­ing, and I didn’t know what was going to hap­pen.

But it’s real­ly one of my mir­a­cle sto­ries, because two months pri­or to the draft I spoke at one of the­se Ath­letes in Action events with Tony Dungy. We both went to the same col­lege, Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta. I remem­ber get­ting up before every­body and razz­ing him a lit­tle bit, say­ing, “You know coach, us alums have to stick togeth­er so if you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to draft me go right ahead. Feel free.” And he got up and said, “We would love to but we just draft­ed Dal­las Clark.” And this is no lie, then he said in front of every­body, “But I promise you if for some rea­son you slip through the cracks, which I don’t think you will, but if you do I’ll be the first to call.” 

I kind of thought, you know it’s a nice thing to say but I thought I was going to get draft­ed. And I remem­ber dri­ving up to my agent’s office after the sec­ond day of the draft real­ly try­ing to hold back the tears because it was a real­ly tough sit­u­a­tion and it was real­ly embar­rass­ing too, my fam­i­ly was there. It was tough. So 5 min­utes into free agen­cy the phone rings, and it’s Tony Dungy. He was the first per­son to call me, he and Bill Polian, gen­er­al man­ager of the Colts. Free agen­cy is pret­ty much a cat­tle call and for Bill Polian and Tony Dungy to call me them­selves and for him to fol­low up on his promise is pret­ty amaz­ing to me. They got me surgery so I could heal. They told me not to wor­ry about the sea­son that they would give me the whole year to recov­er and get back because we real­ly believe in you, you have the tal­ent and gave me a small sign­ing bonus and they paid me as an active rook­ie. That doesn’t hap­pen in the NFL. They paid me a full rookie’s salary, and I did noth­ing but heal. So it real­ly was by the grace of God, a mir­a­cle, to make it to that team. And three years lat­er I’m one of the tight ends in the Super Bowl. God real­ly does work in amaz­ing and won­der­ful ways. 

Q: Ben, this is your first CD and you have some pret­ty big names – Sandi Pat­ty, Jere­my Camp – on it.

A: If it wasn’t for that call (from Tony Dungy) I wouldn’t have met any of the­se peo­ple. I had a chance to meet Sandi Pat­ty through speak­ing to a group of kids when I was with the Colts. This joy­ful wom­an in a Colts jer­sey came up to me after­wards, and I didn’t rec­og­nize her, and she said, “She is the biggest Colts fan and can you sign this for me, please?” “Sure who do I make it out to? And she was like Sandi Pat­ty, and I hand­ed the pen back to her and said, “You need to sign this for me.” I grew up on Sandi Pat­ty. And I became the kid in the can­dy store. And she became like my sur­ro­gate mom. She real­ly took in my wife and I being new to Indi­ana.

It’s just amaz­ing how the Lord has brought all the­se peo­ple into my life. Lat­er that year I met Jere­my after one of his con­certs in Indi­anapolis. And we just real­ly hit it off. It was like two broth­ers. We have very sim­i­lar back­grounds, very sim­i­lar tes­ti­monies. We just click.

It was all an answer to my prayer. When­ev­er it come to music I always prayed Lord if this is some­thing that you want me to pur­sue bring the right peo­ple into my life to get me there. And bam, bam, it just con­tin­ues to come. It was through Sandi that I met my man­ager Mike Atkins, who is one of the moguls of Chris­tian music man­agers. Sandi start­ed her own label, Sty­los Records, and she asked me to be the first artist on her label. I couldn’t believe it. All the­se things have just fal­l­en into place for me to walk through the door­way

Q: So what is foot­ball now? Is that a hob­by?

A: No, foot­ball is not a hob­by. You can put that in quotes. I have made it very clear that foot­ball is a pri­or­i­ty. It is some­thing that I know God has given me to use as a plat­form, and it’s a very seri­ous job. It is some­thing that I have to do to provide for my fam­i­ly. Once the sea­son starts, music is put on hold. And that is real­ly OK. It’s always been that way ever since I played. So it won’t be any dif­fer­ent, and I’ll still be able to min­is­ter through­out the sea­son using foot­ball. As far music per­for­mances, con­certs and shows that is what the off­sea­son is for. That is one of the ben­e­fits of being a pro ath­lete. Plus, I have this avenue that a lot of Chris­tian artists might not have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reach. I’m very excit­ed to see what God does with that, because it is a mas­sive audi­ence.

Q: Now you are with the Ben­gals, going from one of the top teams to a strug­gling team.

A: It is tough. I knew it would be tough. I think it’s a whole lot more than just foot­ball going on there that it is to serve a pur­pose greater than foot­ball. Tony would tell you the same thing. When I had a chance to talk to him about the Cin­cy thing, he said that he had been pray­ing about it, which is amaz­ing to me that he was pray­ing about what to do. He said that he just felt the Lord was telling him that that team need­ed some more light and that I would be a great asset to that team as a lead­er and a Chris­tian. That kind of just helped seal the deal, in my mind. That’s kind of how the Indi­anapolis Colts have oper­at­ed. They bring in char­ac­ter guys and mold them into cham­pi­ons then they get moved to oth­er teams and they help those teams become suc­cess­ful, and I’m hop­ing that is what the Lord is using me for.

Q: How do you deal with egos like Ter­rell Owens or Chad John­son Ochocin­co?

A: A guy like TO or Chad are great lock­er room guys. They bring a lot of ener­gy to a team, which is impor­tant. One thing, Chad he’s a come­di­an. He brings a light­heart­ed­ness, a joy, to the team, and that is very impor­tant. I think there is a Hol­ly­wood aspect for the­se guys. And I think there is a Hol­ly­wood aspect in the NFL, if you want to take it there. I’m not going to be the one to take it there. Def­i­nite­ly there are those that do, and done in the prop­er way can be a pret­ty good mar­ket­ing tool. That’s impor­tant for peo­ple to under­stand that foot­ball doesn’t last forever and the bet­ter you can mar­ket your­self the more oppor­tu­ni­ties you will have when foot­ball is done.
On a mar­ketable approach, they are real­ly genius­es. The name Chad John­son Ochocin­co is world-wide. If that was his goal, he has suc­ceed­ed and that’s some­thing to give him a lit­tle cred­it for.

Q Is it tough being a Chris­tian in the NFL mar­ket, where there’s drugs, alco­hol wom­en?

A: It is tough. I was so for­tu­nate to go to the Colts to be a part of an orga­ni­za­tion that nev­er has dealt with those issues. And it real­ly helped me grow not only as a foot­ball play­er but as a man. Which is some­thing very spe­cial to say. I grew up in a strong Chris­tian fam­i­ly, my dad is a Unit­ed Methodist min­is­ter. I was real­ly ground­ed in my faith going into col­lege and the NFL. So I real­ly knew who I want­ed to rep­re­sent and why. So for me I’ve nev­er been afraid to go again­st the grain. I like to be out­spo­ken in what I believe, and if you do it in the right way peo­ple respect you for that. If there is any­thing I learned from Tony Dungy is that when you approach faith prop­er­ly — out of love — often times it’s received in love. That is a great thing to under­stand as a Chris­tian. In my 4 years with the Colts, I don’t remem­ber any­thing bad writ­ten about Tony Dungy, no mat­ter what his stance was on things. Because he did it the right way and con­sis­tent­ly lived his life in that man­ner. That’s some­thing that I real­ly want to make sure that I do. 

Q: How do you do it? By exam­ple? Prayer before games?

A: Absolute­ly. I think you hit nail on head when you said exam­ple. Talk does not go very far in the NFL. For a lot of the rea­sons we talked about. In any pro indus­try, whether it be music, movies, sports, issues of pride and van­i­ty the­se things become very preva­lent and hard to work around, because to try tell some­body about the impor­tance of hav­ing a rela­tion­ship with Christ might not always have an impact. Because basi­cal­ly guys in their 20s have been given the world right out of col­lege. But when you live your faith and con­sis­tent­ly live it and they see you lov­ing on broth­ers, lov­ing on team­mates and peo­ple, serv­ing the com­mu­ni­ty. When they see you doing it that’s when they say, “Hey there’s some­thing there. Some­thing dif­fer­ent about that per­son.” That’s what peo­ple say about Tony — there’s some­thing dif­fer­ent about this guy. He nev­er yells on the side­line, you nev­er hear him swear­ing or cussing out his play­ers. He’s always so calm and col­lect­ed and there is a rea­son for that. Tony wouldn’t do that because he’s a pas­sive guy, because he’s not. He does it pur­pose­ful­ly, because he knows he’s under a mag­ni­fy­ing glass, and he wants to rep­re­sent Christ con­sis­tent­ly.

Q: Dur­ing con­certs what kind of tes­ti­mony do you give?

A: A lot of tes­ti­mony comes through the music, a lot of my songs are writ­ten through per­son­al expe­ri­ences and to share those expe­ri­ence. Anoth­er aspect is Q and A. I always love get­ting real with peo­ple. I think one thing as Chris­tians is that we can be more of is vul­ner­a­ble. I have no prob­lem being vul­ner­a­ble, if any­thing I want peo­ple to hear my mis­takes. I want peo­ple to know my weak­ness­es so that may­be those who have dealt with the same thing that I have can may­be learned some things.

Q: You said some­thing inter­est­ing in con­certs you want to be vul­ner­a­ble. You can’t be vul­ner­a­ble on the foot­ball field.

A: No you can’t and it’s almost the oppo­site. When a per­son is vul­ner­a­ble they have noth­ing to lose. It’s all laid out on the table. I think if you look at it at that aspect may­be being that way as an ath­lete you real­ly have noth­ing to lose. Hmm. I want peo­ple to know is that I am a Chris­tian and I’m sen­si­tive and that it doesn’t make me less strong or any less capa­ble to be a hard-hit­ting tight end in the NFL. That’s my job and that’s some­thing I take seri­ous. What I want peo­ple to under­stand is that to be a Chris­tian rais­es the bar for me as an ath­lete to a place that I can nev­er reach but that I can always strive for. That is to give God every­thing that I have. That to me is amaz­ing moti­va­tion that should tell a coach and team that I’m always going to give all that I have to the team.

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2 Responses to Bengals TE Utecht gets a different reception

  1. Davan S. Mani says:

    I love that ques­tion and his respon­se. The part about being vul­ner­a­ble.

  2. Davan S. Mani says:

    I love that ques­tion and his respon­se. The part about being vul­ner­a­ble.

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