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Guitar Man

Posted May 22, 2009


RELATED: Listen to Utecht's album here!

Posted: 5:50 p.m.

We come to you, Lord in pain and suffering
But we know, by your love you will heal the wounds we bear
Now hear my prayer

Heal me.  Heal my, my Lord.  Take from me this thorn.  And heal me.

Ben Utecht barely could write the words and notes on the paper that day last season when anguish finally married injury.  He called it "Heal Me," a song born of disappointment and dedicated to the faith he has had even before he could sing and play football.

"I've been singing as long as I've been playing football; fourth grade," Utecht says this week after one of the Bengals' first on-field workouts. "A lot of my writing takes place in the offseason. My motto is if its football season, it's all football."

Which is why Utecht's debut CD, Ben Utecht came out of the studio at the height of the offseason last month, where it has made its mark in Christian music by selling out the first shipment of 2,000 and the pre-paid orders on benutecht.com, as well as settling in a click away on iTunes.

And with training camp still two months away, Utecht is pushing it with all sorts of radio interviews, from The Sports Animal to The Uplifting and Kid Safe Station. He still can't quite believe it when he flips the CD on while driving to sing at an event and "there you are" playing the guitar and singing a dozen songs, nine of which you wrote or co-wrote.

"I felt the same way when I signed my first football card," Utecht says. " 'Whoa. I'm on a football card?' "

From teammates listening to it in the weight room, to Christianity Today proclaiming, "a solid songwriter and exceptional singer, Utecht is a total pro," to an offer to appear to the TV's "Christian Cathedral" and be beamed to 20 million people, the accolades are coming fast.

But last year's misery still haunts him. After signing a three-year, $9 million deal in free agency that the Bengals felt solved some long-time holes on offense that had developed without a receiver threat at tight end, a chest injury and then a broken rib limited Utecht to 10 games and 16 catches.

File it under "No Factor."

We’ve seen and heard what you can do by trusting you
We believe that by faith you will heal and pour out your grace
Now hear my prayer

Yahweh Rophe come revive me. 

The song arrived during one of those rare days in season that he jots music and words. About the only thing he could move with the broken rib was his emotion.

"That's how music is written," he says. "That's what it's about. What you feel. You put it on paper and give people a chance to get to know you.

"I write whenever I feel it. Morning. Afternoon. Night. Sometimes the words come first. Other times it's the music. It's never the same."

Utecht always seems to be trying to marry something. If it's not words with music, it's the role of a Christian artist who moonlights in one of the most violent pursuits on the planet. He admits he's always fighting the image and he's been doing it for a long time.

While playing three sports at Hastings High School in Minnesota, he was singing in five choirs as well as in a vocal jazz ensemble and show choir outside school. His father was a vocal music major before going into the ministry and his mother could have gone into opera.

So.

Cue the chorus.

How the heck can a Christian AND a singer play in the NFL?

"Absolutely you have to fight it," Utecht says. "It's just like anything else. You're going to have critics. I was amazed to see on iTunes that I had some football fans that just don't like me as a football player and went on to iTunes specifically to downgrade me. They probably didn't even listen to the CD.

"They were talking about getting hurt. All the things you expect from angry football fans. I can't control what happened last year. You can count on that (for incentive). Not only did the organization have high hopes, I had higher hopes."

Who am I to complain?  When you endured so much suffering and pain
And who am I to be mad at you?  For all the hard times that I’m going through

You’re the one who hung on the tree
You took the whips and the beatings for me
The one who bled, painting the ground
Forced to wear the burden of the thorny crown

Utecht calls that one Passion (Who I Am), a sliver of insight showing he's living the one-on-one drill daily.

"I've always considered myself a pretty vulnerable individual," he says. "I think that's a good thing. Not only in teaching younger players in football, but also in your openness with your emotions. So really I've just been vulnerable on paper. I've taken my experiences and put them on paper."

Utecht can let the critics rail.

He's got a wife whom, in no particular order, is a former Miss Minnesota, a scratch golfer, and a classically trained pianist that sometimes accompanies him on stage. They just had their first child, a daughter named Elleora, which translates to “Light of God” in Hebrew. And, if that's not enough, he also has the high regard of his teammates.

Some nights during training camp last year, eight to 10 players were in Utecht's dorm room listening to him and roommate Nate Lawrie on their guitars. On occasion defensive tackle Domata Peko would bring his guitar, which makes sense. He and Utecht have fathers that are ministers and grew up playing at worship services.

"He's very talented. The guys have come to respect him and how much he cares," says left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

During the offseason, Whitworth invited Utecht to speak and sing at his church in Monroe, La., back in February. Melissa Whitworth loved his voice and she wanted him to sing Casting Crowns' My Lifesong Sings at their March wedding.

So not only did the wedding end up featuring a Miss Minnesota and a Miss Louisiana, but Melissa and Ben Utecht are going to sing a duet at a Christian event in Cincinnati next month.

"I get a chance to write songs that have great messages. Positive stuff. Not just to sing in church but, man, take some of that stuff into the schools," Utecht says. "Songs that talk about character. Songs that talk about perseverance, talk about love. These things you take into the public schools and it's not an issue."

But it's two songs that he didn't write that he's pushing for radio play, Mark Harris' We All Bow Down and Yours by John David Webster. Those are two crunch-time players in Christian music and throw in that Utecht is joined on Bow Down by Sandi Patty, the Aretha Franklin of the genre, and he's surrounded by a Pro Bowl line.

"They have the most appeal," Utecht says. "Yours is a song about giving yourself completely over to your faith and what positive things can happen when you do that. The song that I sing with Sandi is basically a song about standing before God in reverence. Understanding how great he is. It's worshipful song."
 
We All Bow Down has been released in the Soft Adult Contemporary category with good reviews in Detroit, San Angelo, Texas, and Hagerstown, Md. Yours is to be released next week with indications it will get some national air play. After an interview with Cincinnati's Star 93.3 Friday, it looks they will be heard locally and Utecht is hoping the hometown stations in Minneapolis pick them up. 

His radio promoter, Mark Giles, says the one thing he keeps hearing from the radio stations is “Wow, this guy has pipes!"

That's what Super Bowled over Patty. A big-time Colts fan who has performed with the Indianapolis Symphony (not to mention the Cincinnati Pops), Patty, a five-time Grammy winner, once approached Utecht for an autograph while wearing a Payton Manning jersey back when he was catching passes from Manning.

When Utecht gave her the piece of paper back and said, "You need to sign this," they were destined to play catch, too.

"He started singing, and literally our jaws dropped," Patty told the Associated Press last month. "It was amazing. There are people that can sing, and people that know how to really communicate a song. He not only signs beautifully, he knows how to communicate a song."

One of Utecht's career highlights is singing What Are You Doing New Year's? with Patty in downtown Indy during a Christmas concert.

But the other day was pretty good, too. Utecht walked into the weight room and tight end Reggie Kelly was lifting to Yours.

You’re the silence, you’re the cry, you’re the meaning in my life
You’re the war, you’re the peace, you’re the hope that lives in me
You’re my heart, you’re my soul, you’re my life you are my Lord
You’re my heart, you’re my life…

Utecht, the wedding singer, is still looking for perfect marriages. If it's not football and God and music, it's matching blocking with catching.

"I'm going to work as hard as I did last year, if not harder," he says. "I can only control my work ethic."


 

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