Injuries Lead Gopher, NFL Star Back To His Passion
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Ben Utecht’s life has been a journey worthy of a book. Or in his case — a song.
The former Gopher grew up in Hastings and went on to fame and fortune in professional football, until concussions claimed his career and changed his personality.
Those head injuries lead Ben back to an old passion that now brings him more joy than football.
He lived the charmed life. He was the hometown boy that went to play for the Gophers. Then, he married his college sweetheart, who happened to be Miss Minnesota. Next, it was on to the NFL, where the undrafted free agent ended up a starter — for the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.
He moved on to a big-money contract in Cincinnati and that’s where his life got fuzzy. He took one too many blows to the head and ended up on the sideline.
“It was a scary time. I remember being in the hospital that night with 1,000 questions,” he said.
His fifth diagnosed concussion ended his career and changed his life. The carry over included not remembering a wedding he attended of one of his friends just two years prior.
“I was at a old teammate’s house, Matt Anderle, played for the Gophers. I was in Matt’s wedding and I sang a song at his wedding and he began talking about it and I, for the life of me, couldn’t remember being there,” he said.
He’s open about the issues. There was the day in Cincinnati when he did something out of character.
“I remember at one point my mom being down in Cincinnati, something was said that was you know, something you’d hear every day. And I just snapped. I yelled at my mom. I yelled at my wife,” Ben said.
And it was difficult to predict when those moments would happen.
“It was a lot of ups and downs because he would feel very differently on some days, might be experiencing different symptoms on one day,” his wife Karyn said.
But he’s rebounded in a new career. Ben has gotten serious about what used to be a passionate hobby — singing. He plans to go on a national tour this winter and release a Christmas CD.
“For me, it’s a business that … what keeps me going is that I love it so much,” he said.
That love is evident to others, as well.
“It’s so much fun to see him as a musician,” his wife said. “His eyes really light up in a different way.”
He and Karyn have settled into a new life, one that includes 2-month-old twin daughters and their 2-and-a-half-year-old big sister.
“He never poured his entire identity into football. He was very much so focused on being a father and a husband and just providing for us in whatever way he best could,” Karyn said.
He is driven in his music but reminded that his future is built on a foundation he used in football.
“Our Super Bowl ring has the word ‘faith’ on it, which is the only Super Bowl ring in the history of the NFL to have any kind of spiritual symbolism,” he said.
And that’s why he believes his future is secure, not because he or they know what tomorrow brings.
“We’re going to choose to believe that God is in control and that something good is going to come from this,” Karyn said.
A head injury that helped remind him of exactly who he is.
“It was the injuries that I faced that brought some of the greatest refinement to me, as a man,” Ben said.
He will be touring nationally starting in November. You can find out more about Utecht’s music by checking out his website.