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Brad Rock: Where's Weddle? Everywhere

Published: Friday, June 23 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah's Eric Weddle has played safety, quarterback, punt returner, kickoff returner, punter, cornerback, running back and long-snap holder. He has been on the offensive and defensive coverage units, too. In his senior year of high school, he was a wide receiver.

So what is his favorite position? Bench-warmer, of course.

Or at least being in a position to sit on the bench.

"Honestly? That's my dream game," says Weddle. "I would probably play defense wherever they wanted me, and offensively have a great game.

"Maybe I could run a fake field goal, too. Then it's in the fourth quarter and we have the game put away and I'm on the sidelines watching the young guys and they're all hyped up and trying to get noticed and I'm just enjoying it."

Perhaps Weddle enjoys the sidelines because he hasn't spent much time there. Since joining the Utes in 2003, he has become their one-man, full-service department store. Want to run a trick play from the spread? He can do that. Need a holder for a field goal — or better yet, a fake field goal? He's that and more. If you need someone to return a kick, he'll respond like James Taylor: You just call out his name, and you know wherever his is, he'll come running.

Don't be surprised if he shows up at receiver this fall, too.

"If I could ever get to play RECEIVER in a game," Weddle says loudly enough that a passing assistant coach can hear. "Don't get me wrong. The receivers we have do just fine. But I was a receiver in high school."

Anything else? How about driving the team bus?

It may be the offseason, but Weddle is having a hard time keeping his name out of the newspapers. He is one of the most preseason-publicized players in school history, showing up on one watch list after another. Last week he was named a candidate for the Chuck Bednarik Award, presented to the outstanding defensive player in the nation. The returning Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year is also a candidate for the Bronko Nagurski Award and the Ronnie Lott Trophy. Athlon Sports and The Sporting News have him on their preseason all-America first teams. ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman named him among the 12 best defensive players in the nation and he has been selected Blue Ribbon College Yearbook and Lindy's preseason conference defensive player of the year.

This early attention doesn't remotely seem to faze Weddle.

"It's good," says Weddle. "Any recognition for any player at Utah is good for the program. But right now it's all hearsay-theresay."

A standout baseball player in high school, Weddle was a draft prospect until a runaway fastball shattered his eye socket. Although the injury healed, his psyche didn't. He was never the same when stepping into the batter's box.

"I was the best at baseball and I loved basketball the most," says Weddle. "But football was up my alley."

At Utah, he was a first-team freshman all-American in 2003, starting nine of 12 games. The next year — Utah's historic undefeated season — he started 11 games, missing only one due to a knee injury. His 11 tackles led the team in the Fiesta Bowl.

Along the way he learned the best way to irritate an opponent is to make like the paparazzi, showing up in unexpected places. Last season against Colorado State, he took the snap on a fake field goal and scored a touchdown. Against Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl, he did the same for a crucial first down. As a quarterback, he ran for a 20-yard gain against Tech and did so on a 10-yard gain against BYU.

Keeping track of his whereabouts can be a full-time assignment. He's become the "Where's Waldo?" of college football.

This season, he's scheduled to play strong safety, but teams really won't know all the places from where he'll be attacking.

Of course, neither will he.

Married almost a year, Weddle says he spends most of his down time at home. When he watches movies, he likes historical adventure/action films like "Troy," "Braveheart" and "Gladiator." Stories about fighters, lovers, leaders.

It stands to reason he'd be watching the guys who can do it all.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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