“But for all you are and all you’ve done, I give you all of me.”— Ben Utecht in “Yours”
Timing is everything.
Sure, it’s a cliché, but like many that often take residence across a car’s bumper, it’s a cliché because it just happens to be true. While many who believe in God often think they have a pretty good idea of how—and when—God should carry out His plans, it’s amazing how Abba’s wristwatch really has a tick-tock all its own, something that’s been a pervasive theme in Ben Utecht’s personal journey as an NFL player and now, as a recording artist for Stylos Records, distributed by Word Entertainment.
Growing up, Ben was never really defined by one thing, except his faith in Christ—something that hasn’t changed as the years have passed. In fact, Ben was—and still is—the unlikely combination of a jock and the creative, artsy type.
Utecht’s love of music began at an early age. Growing up in a musical family (his dad was a vocal music major before he became a minister, while his mom could’ve pursued “some level of opera if she’d wanted to”), Ben says that singing was an “enjoyable part of everyday life.” And that, coupled with the Minnesota native’s burgeoning athletic talent made for a diverse high school experience.
As much as Utecht really loved music, however he began to realize that it was sports—not music—that provided the most future potential. “At that point, music was just a fun hobby,” Ben shares. “You can’t serve two masters, and it seemed like sports was the thing that would catapult me into a possible career. But as a high schooler, you still have to tread lightly because the chances of actually becoming a pro athlete are very, very slim.”
While the dream began to “have some merit,” it wasn’t until his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota that the dream progressed into a goal. “People had told me I have the ability, which is all it comes down to in professional sports,” Ben says. “Now it was just a matter of taking it seriously and making that goal a reality.”
But first a lesson in surrender to that pesky little detail of God’s timing was in order. When Utecht was first eligible for the NFL, he was supposed to be a high round draft choice as a Tight End, chosen
“anywhere from the middle of the first round to the middle of the second round, which is pretty prestigious,” according to Ben. But a pretty serious injury during his senior year got him red-flagged and on the fast track to free agency instead.
“So that was really tough when you’ve worked so hard for something,” Ben shares. “Nobody really knew what the problem was, and there are no guarantees of a future in football when you’re a free agent.”
Beginning to wonder if he’d wrongly put all the proverbial eggs in the professional football basket, Utecht didn’t know that an Athletes in Action speaking engagement with fellow U of M alum, Tony Dungy, the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was about to change his life.
Before introducing Dungy, the event’s keynote speaker, he ribbed him a little. “I said, ‘You know Coach, U of M men take care of each other. I expect you to follow through on that and draft me.’” Then when Dungy spoke, he razzed Ben in return: “Unfortunately, Ben, we drafted a Tight End in the first round, so that isn’t going to be high on our priority list. I promise you this, though, if for some reason, you slip through the cracks, I’ll be the first to call you.”
At the time, Ben didn’t want to get his hopes up. But God’s impeccable timing was about to kick in. Only five minutes after the free agency bell rang, Ben’s phone rang. It was the Colt’s general manager and Dungy with an offer that Ben couldn’t refuse. Not only did they want him to join the Colts, but he’d also get the surgery he needed and have a year of paid recovery time to prepare for his NFL debut. In four years of playing for Indianapolis, Utecht won a Super Bowl ring and even though he’s with the Bengals now (“another definite God thing,” Ben says), Dungy has remained a close friend and mentor.
“Ben Utecht is a talented football player. He started at Tight End for my team, the Indianapolis Colts, in Super Bowl XLI and helped us beat the Chicago Bears,” says Dungy. “However, I always thought his real impact would be in Christian music. Ben has a tremendous voice and a passion for music, but more than that, he believes in the gospel message and that comes through when he sings. I believe God is going to use his musical gift in a special way.”
The Resurfacing of Music
Professional football certainly wasn’t all God had in mind for Ben ministry-wise. In fact, more doors seemed to be opening by the day for Utecht to sing. Not only had he performed the national anthem at countless college and pro sports events and played at churches over the years, but Utecht has also sung for both President Bushes.
“This was the beginning of the Lord opening up huge opportunities,” Ben says. “And then my move to Indiana was the beginning of really going after music as a career.”
And once again, at the most unlikely time, opportunity came knocking when he met and became great friends with Christian music legends, Sandi Patty and Bill and Gloria Gaither. “It’s been mind-boggling,” Ben confesses. “When I met Sandi, it was because she came up to me after an event and asked for my autograph because she’s a big Colts fan. When she told me her name, I just laughed, handed back the piece of paper and said ‘You need to sign this for me.’”
In addition to singing at the Gaithers’ famed Homecoming events, Ben also connected with fellow artist Jeremy Camp after a concert in Indianapolis. Given their love of music and similar backgrounds of having fathers who were pastors, the two shared so much in common that it didn’t take long for a lasting camaraderie to develop. “It was apparent from the beginning that it was a very God-breathed friendship,” Ben shares. “And it’s funny, even our wives are close friends.”
“I’ve walked closely with Ben over the past few years and have been greatly impacted by his heart for the Lord,” adds Camp. “He has a deep love for the body, a genuine passion for the kingdom, and I consider him one of my closest friends. I know you'll be blessed by his music when you hear that heart displayed with such power and conviction.”
And now, with God’s blessing and the encouragement and collaboration of his new friends (Sandi Patty sings a duet with Ben on “We All Bow Down,” while Camp helped co-write “Rescue Me”), Ben is making his official debut with a self-titled album. With powerhouse vocals and an eclectic soundscape, Utecht’s debut, produced by Nathan Nockels (Chris Tomlin, Passion, Point Of Grace), features something for everyone. Whether it’s a energetic rock ballad like “Yours” that’s “an ode to God” penned by Indianapolis native John David Webster or “Generation,” a crossover-friendly cry for love and peace that’s accessible enough for Utecht to sing in high schools he’s often invited to speak in, the songs have a wide-reaching appeal.
Going against the grain of our youth-obsessed culture, “We All Bow Down,” which like “Generation,” was penned by Mark Harris, is a duet between Utecht and Patti, a moment that’s particularly special. “There could be many from this new generation who haven't yet heard the name Sandi Patty, and that’s a shame,” Ben says. “So I thought this was an incredible opportunity to have a fusion between the new and older generation by putting the two together.”
Another way that Utecht’s artistry has been inspired lately is new fatherhood as he and his wife Karyn recently welcomed a daughter, Elleora, which means “Light of God” in Hebrew.
“Like so many things in life, once again, all the clichés are true,” Ben shares. “Being a father is really such an incredible gift. It’s taught me things about God I would’ve never known otherwise, and I feel honored to be entrusted with such a little miracle at the absolute perfect time.”
Timing. Life really is all about it.
For more information about Utecht, please visit www.BenUtecht.com.