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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...



Connections:Ben Utecht

Pursue Excellence

Ben Utecht is a football player by trade, but a follower of Jesus by desire. A former tight end for the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, this Super Bowl-winning player is known for his faith both on and off the field. In 2009 - collaborating with friends Jeremy Camp, Sandi Patty, Nathan Nockels and Mark Harris - Utecht released his debut Christian album. Ben and his wife, Karyn, both grew up in Minnesota. They welcomed their first child, Elleora Grace, in March 2009. The Utecht family currently lives in Cincinnati. Recently, Utecht spoke with Senior Associate Editor Scott Harrup.

evangel: Professional football player, Christian music artist. A lot of people might see those roles as mutually exclusive. Since most people currently know you through your NFL persona, tell us how your musical life got started.
UTECHT:
Music has always been a huge passion of mine. My dad, who has been a minister for nearly 30 years, started his college career as a vocal music major before he went to seminary. I grew up with a foundation of music through my parents.
I started singing in church around the sixth grade. In high school I was involved in all the choirs and in theater and musicals. I started getting some individual opportunities in college to sing the national anthem for the University of Minnesota sporting events and some pro events. I had a chance to sing the national anthem for both President Bushes as they came to Minnesota. That was such an honor.

evangel: What was your journey into the NFL?
UTECHT:
Athletics provided the first open doors for me in life. The Lord gave me an opportunity to play Big Ten football at the University of Minnesota. After I spent five years there, I received a call from Tony Dungy asking me to play for the Colts. I spent four years in Indianapolis, and we won a Super Bowl.

evangel: Coach Dungy came through for you at a down time in your career when the draft didn't work out the way you thought it would.
UTECHT:
He's a University of Minnesota alumnus, and I had a chance to speak with him at an Athletes in Action banquet. I kind of razzed him at the banquet a little as an alumnus and said, "Hey, we take care of each other. Feel free to draft me." There were probably 600 people there, and everyone seemed to get a kick out of it. He got up in front of everyone and said, "You're right. We alumni take care of each other. I know you're injured, and if for some reason you slip through the cracks, I'll be the first person to call." And sure enough, Tony Dungy was the first person to call.

evangel: When did you put your faith in Christ?
UTECHT:
I was drawn into my faith through the relationship I saw between my parents; so I was able to experience the love of Christ at a young age. I gave my life to the Lord when I was going through grade school. I remember I asked my dad to help me through the prayer of salvation. That's where it began. In high school I really began to understand what a personal relationship was all about and really began to get on fire for my faith.

evangel: How does your faith shape your commitment to excellence, whether you're singing or running a play?
UTECHT:
It reminds me of Colossians 3:23, which says, "Do all things as if working for the Lord and not for men." In the NFL, being a Christian can sometimes come with a negative connotation. You can be stereotyped as being more soft or more fragile spirited. But I believe it's the opposite. I think that it raises the bar, because I'm playing for something greater than myself. For me it's not about any kind of worldly success. It's am I stepping on the field representing my God every single time, every single play? Am I representing Him in the recording studio with every single note that I sing? Am I doing it all to the best of my ability? Because that's what He deserves, and more.

evangel: Let's talk about Super Bowl XLI. Take me through that experience.
UTECHT:
Speechless. It's one of those things you grow up as a kid watching. I watched every single Super Bowl since I started understanding what football is about. So to actually be there was truly amazing. And along with that came so many special memories - having my wife there and my parents. It was a very emotional period.

evangel: Any specific plays still jump out at you?
UTECHT:
We were just about to get into the Chicago red zone, the last 20 yards. It was third down and 8. And we needed a first down. And that's not an easy first down to get. I was lined up in the backfield, and I remember Peyton [Manning] - it was raining real hard during the game - telling me to be ready because he was coming to me on this play. I made it through the offensive line and ran a 5-yard option route and turned, and he put the ball on me. As I turned with the ball I had 5 more yards to gain, and there was Brian Urlacher and [Lance] Briggs, both pro-bowl linebackers ready to just sandwich me. And so I went as hard as I could, lowered my shoulder, and was able to get the first down. That was a cool moment.

evangel: Your debut album includes a number of songs you wrote. Is there a life experience that made one of those songs a must-write for you?
UTECHT:
One in particular is a very special song. It's called "Passion" and is the last song on the album. I wrote it after seeing The Passion of the Christ for the first time. I remember driving back to where I was staying at the time, just weeping. It was such an emotional experience, and I felt so moved by the Spirit at that point that I got on my face and prayed for anointing. I think I wrote those lyrics in less than 10 minutes. It just came.

It's a song about each of us taking a hard look at our identity and ourselves as Christians. Asking ourselves, "Who am I to complain or worry after all the things He went through?"

I wrote "Rescue Me" with one of my best friends, Jeremy Camp. That song is all about facing our struggles with sin - especially as Christian men. The song starts out, "I stand alone in this guilt with a secret that blinds me. Where the lies become truth and I can't forgive myself. No I can't forgive myself." The song describes that process we go through when our sin brings guilt and sorrow. We feel we're stuck in this deep, dark hole of unforgiveness. The lies of the evil one start to look like truth - "It's OK to look at that because you're not necessarily doing anything. You're just looking." And you start to believe those things. You start to fall into it.

But the song is also about redemption. Christ is our Savior; He's our Rescuer. The chorus is just this cry from the individual who is struggling: "Rescue me from the pain of my own destruction. Rescue me from the depths of my despair." So it's all about the rescuing power of Christ.

evangel: Who are your mentors musically and athletically?
UTECHT:
Athletically, Tony Dungy is a big mentor of mine. He is someone who not only mentored me as an athlete but also as a person. It has always been a goal of mine to do the best job that I can reflecting Christ. And that is something that I learned from Tony Dungy. When you study the way he lives his life - everything from how he treats his family to how he communicates with the media - it's to reflect his relationship with the Lord.

Bill and Gloria Gaither mentored me through a lot of the music process, and Sandy Patti became almost a second mom. I sing a duet with her on the album, and the album is being released on her label. Jeremy Camp is someone else God brought into my life to help me through this process.

evangel: The release of your album came on the heels of your daughter's birth. How do you balance a dual career and your commitment to your family?
UTECHT:
I have to make sure I'm spending time with the Lord. There's such an importance to my quiet time and filling myself with the truth. The Bible is my real playbook. When you read the Gospels, you discover Christ was spending time with His Father every morning. He gives me a good example to follow. I keep my priorities as faith, then family, then football.

evangel: I like that expression that the Bible is your real playbook. Is there a particular passage that comes to mind?
UTECHT:
Acts 20:24 is a great passage for me. Paul the apostle is talking about all the places he has been and how the Holy Spirit has warned him of the hardships he will face wherever he goes. And Paul says, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, but that I might finish the race." This whole idea of surrender, this whole idea of how can we get to the point in our lives where we can honestly say that we consider our lives worth nothing, but to finish the race and testify to God's grace - that's a mind-set and an attitude that I yearn to have.

evangel: Who's the scariest person you've ever stared down across the line of scrimmage?
UTECHT:
You definitely go up against players who have a reputation for being big hitters. I mentioned Brian Urlacher. You've got Ray Lewis, who brings such an energy to the game. When you first go against these guys, you can be intimidated. But I always keep in mind, no matter what, it's just football. Once the game starts and you're actually in contact with these players, some of that intimidation just goes away. In six years of playing, I've taken some big hits and dealt with some injuries, but that's just part of a full-contact, full-throttle event.

evangel: If you were encouraging someone to make some yardage on life's playing field, what advice would you offer?
UTECHT:
I've always encouraged people to stand up for their beliefs. It's so easy to go with the flow of the world. I just encourage people to not be afraid. Fear can be crippling. It has been to me at times. The Bible says over and over again, "Fear not." I think it's repeated so we'll stand up against fear, stand up for what we believe, and God will honor that. Second Timothy 1:7 reminds us that God has not given us a spirit of fear.

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