Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Eric Weddle is more than just the honorary co-chair (along with Spence Eccles) of "Invest in Excellence: The Campaign for Utah Athletics." The San Diego Chargers star is also a big contributor, making a $250,000 donation to the fundraising effort.
"It's great to have Eric contribute that kind of major gift to our campaign," said Utah athletics director Chris Hill. "It's a real compliment to our program."
Weddle announced his contribution in a speech at the end of Saturday night's kickoff dinner at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"We knew he was contemplating it. We didn't know if he was going to make an announcement now or what exactly what he situation was," Hill said. "We knew he was going to help us. It's become almost a tradition with some of our players that have done so well. But it was a good surprise."
Hill added that is was very exciting and a great way to get the goal of raising $150 million over the next five years started. The "Invest in Excellence" program is intended to build an infrastructure for the Utah athletics department, which currently has the lowest annual budget in the Pac-12. At $36.8 million per year, the Utes are well below the conference average of $63.5 million.
Top donors and former athletes gathered to launch the drive, which was formally announced by university officials.
Hill said things went well.
"It was just a fun, warm evening and an exciting time for us," he explained.
Weddle is among several former Utah athletes to make donations to their alma mater in recent years. Others include Alex Smith, Jordan Gross, Andre Miller, Steve Smith and Andrew Bogut.
"The number of professional players that give major gifts to our program, that's just not the norm around the country," Hill said. "It speaks highly of our coaches and our university."
It also says something, he continued, about Weddle.
"We can't overlook that," Hill said. "It's a great combination with his generosity and feeling towards the university and just the type of young man he is."
A Web site (investinutahathletics.org) has been established to explain the current fundraising effort. Donations are being accepted online.
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