His fans know him as the Tight End who helped the Indianapolis Colts to victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI and later transferred to the Cincinnati Bengals. For 6 years, Ben Utecht has been following his dream of playing in the NFL, but the 6’6” athlete is beginning to pursue his other passion——singing.
It may be hard to believe that not only is Utecht an accomplished football player, but also a talented singer and songwriter. His self-titled album debuted Tuesday, April 21, and features a duet with Sandi Patty, and a song co-written with Jeremy Camp.
With the recent birth of his first child, daughter Elleora Grace, Utecht undoubtedly has a lot going on. Although he will be busy year-round with his many endeavors, Utecht promises to remain fully committed to his team, his faith, and his family.
BREATHECast caught up with Utecht while he spent a few days in Nashville promoting his album during this year’s GMA Music Week before he returned to Cincinnati for his album release concert.
First off, congratulations on your new daughter! How do you plan to balance football, music, and your growing family?
That’s a great question. First of all, the Lord has blessed me with a wonderful day job. To have the platform of the NFL is not only special to me because it’s something I love to do, but it really does make a great avenue to share my faith with people. But you’re right, it’s going to be tough. The thing is, I know that the Lord wants me in football, and that’s got to be my main goal. So what I’m hoping I can do is really focus on music in the off season and do the best job I can to balance the two different seasons. Because really, once August rolls around and through January, unless we get to the Super Bowl, it’s pretty much going to be just football and that’s it. But you know, God always has a unique way of working those things out.
How much do you get to see your family?
During the season, it’s pretty much a seven-day-a-week job. I’m gone from about seven in the morning to about six at night. I still get nights, and we get one day off a week, which is nice. I get a full day off on Tuesday. The great thing about the NFL is that the off season is wide open. We get three months off, and it’s all family then. Two to three months is the time for you to give your body a rest, and give you a chance to really spend some time with family. Now having a new little girl, it’s going to be a must.
Do you think that you will be able to fit a tour in somewhere?
I’m so new at this, I don’t even really know what that all means. [laughs] I think if I could, the only time I would have would really be February and March that I’d have time to do that. Otherwise, I really try to be involved with some of the worship conferences. I have a heart for the church. To get a chance to travel across the country and to go to churches would be really special for me.
The great thing about the NFL is that I have an interesting doorway into the public schools and colleges. And then through that I get to tie in my faith. It’s a cool bridge to cross. It’s so much fun for me because I get asked to go to schools a lot, whether it’s middle school, high school, or even some colleges, to talk about character, and some of these issues that public schools really need to hear. I often say that I have two dreams, and one is to play in the NFL, and then I have a secret dream which I don’t ever tell anyone, and that’s to try out for American Idol. [laughs] The kids love it because that’s what everyone’s into right now. Usually someone shouts out “Prove it!” and that gives me an opportunity to basically give my audition in front of the school. I always sing “Amazing Grace,” which is really cool because it gives me a chance to talk about growing up as a pastor’s kid, and explain why I’m singing “Amazing Grace.” I grew up in the Church, singing in the Church, and I go riff off a few verses of “Amazing Grace” and they just go nuts. That’s the last thing they’re expecting, is for a football player to sing. It’s interesting because nobody complains about the faith aspect. It’s almost like, because it’s presented out of love, and presented with the support of being a professional athlete, it really bridges that gap, that sensitivity that people have. It’s really cool to see how God does that.
What are your plans for the future of your two careers?
I’m going into my 6th year in the NFL, which, praise God, is awesome because the average career in the NFL now is two and a half years. I hope to play four more; I’d like to play for ten. That would be my dream——if my body allows me to. I think, for me, my hope is that the Lord can provide a ministry in music, and over the next 3-4 years I can create a steady fan base so that I can make that transition after football into doing this for the rest of my life because I love it.
How did you decide to make the move into music?
I grew up in a very musical family. My dad was a vocal music major in college, before he went into the ministry. It was always around my sister and I. My mom is a wonderful singer, so we grew up with it. I started singing in church when I was in 4th or 5th grade. It was always a passion, something I always knew would be a part of my life no matter what I did.
How did your team and coach react to your decision? Were they supportive?
So supportive. I received my quote from Coach Dungy and I was almost speechless because I didn’t realize the support that I had until I read it. It was amazing to see how God allowed players to really see how much it meant to me, and once they saw that there was a lot of respect and support. I’ve gotten the same reaction from the Cincinnati Bengals——a lot of support once people realize that it’s not a gimmick. I came down to Nashville with my demos, and I got a lot of that. Just sitting down with Word Distribution and my manager, even they told me, “Listen, we listened to this to do a favor to your manager, because we thought it was a gimmick, but wow, you can really sing. You’ve got a lot of passion.” That’s what has been most exciting for me. When people realize that it’s reality, and it’s my heart, they have a lot of respect for it.
Are your coach and your team concerned that music will interfere with your performance on the field?
That’s a great question because that’s kind of what Tony Dungy said in his quote. I asked him to perform with Sandi Patty during the season in Indianapolis, and he said, “I had to think about it for a second, but then I realized that I know Ben can handle it.” I really can handle it. I’m not going to let it interfere with football. I know that that’s where the Lord has me at this time in my life. I’ve told people already in Cincinnati that when the season starts, it’s about the season. I’ll minister through the season because that’s my heart. But as far as going out and doing shows… football is my ministry platform once it starts.
I’ve heard that you sing at some sporting events. Have you ever sung at your own game?
I have on a couple of different occasions. In college, I sang the national anthem after 9/11 at our football game, which was really, really hard to do. But it was very special at the same time. Usually our coach didn’t allow us to do that, but because of the situation, it was a special thing to do.
I also sang at a preseason football game in Indianapolis against the Buffalo Bills. It was fun; I don’t think the crowd knew what to do. It was probably pretty surprising.
You mentioned singing with Sandi Patty, and I know you’ve also worked with Jeremy Camp. How did that come about?
It’s such a God-breathed aspect of my life because when I moved to Indiana to play with the Colts, I was just a rookie player who didn’t know anybody. And in a matter of 2-3 years, through unique circumstance, the Lord brought Bill and Gloria Gaither, Sandi Patty who became a second mom to me, into my life. And then I got to meet Jeremy after a concert in Indianapolis. We just clicked immediately, and now he’s my best friend in all the world. We got a chance to co-write on this last album. We kind of finish each others’ sentences. So when writing the song, which is called “Rescue Me,” we were at his house in Lafayette and it happened so quickly. Within a half an hour we had already gone into a studio and laid down the music and laid down the idea and lyrics. It was really awesome how fast it came together. We have very similar backgrounds and testimonies, so we were able to write that song together pretty quickly.
Did your friendship with him help guide you to pursue your music career?
It was definitely confirmation from God. Often my prayer was, “Lord, I don’t know where You’re going with this music thing. If You want me to continue to pursue, continue to bring people into my life that can help me do that.” So when He brought 3 of the moguls of Christian music into my life, I thought “Okay, I’ll keep trying.” Jeremy has been a massive spiritual accountability partner. He’s really kept me grounded and kept me understanding the business side of it as well, because there’s an aspect of being an artist where you have to understand how difficult it is. It’s just like playing in the NFL. Very few people can do it and make it a career that can provide for your family. He gave me a lot of truths about the reality of being a successful artist that I probably didn’t know before.
How has your experience been so far at GMA Week?
I presented at the Dove Awards last year, but outside of that this is all new to me. The one positive for me, is that I’ve done so many interviews with the sports side of things, that doing interviews for me is fun, and I don’t get nervous with them. I don’t feel out of my element here other than the fact that everybody is a lot smaller than my teammates. [laughs]