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Mormon NFL safety Eric Weddle: Balancing football and faith

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 2:27 p.m. MDT

San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle and his family after church meetings. Family members include son Gaige, daughter Brooklyn, wife Chanel and youngest daughter Silver. (Family Photo) San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle and his family after church meetings. Family members include son Gaige, daughter Brooklyn, wife Chanel and youngest daughter Silver. (Family Photo)

This is the fourth of five excerpts from the recently released book "No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story," which follows the former Utah Ute's journey to becoming a Pro Bowl safety with the NFL's San Diego Chargers. "No Excuses, No Regrets," written by Deseret News journalist Trent Toone, is available at Deseret Book.

Less than six hours before kickoff between the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009, some players slept in while others ate breakfast and watched ESPN "SportsCenter."

At least one player left the team hotel to drive home and change into a white shirt and tie.

Before going to work, Eric Weddle needed to feed his soul.

It was the first time he had included church attendance in his game day routine, and for Weddle, it was two seasons overdue. During his first two seasons, Eric opted for extra sleep over church unless the Chargers played on Sunday or Monday night. He found the justification easy — he had a high-profile job and nobody criticized him for skipping church. But he also started to sense that he didn’t feel like the same person spiritually. Eric realized he wasn’t meeting the standard he had set for himself when he converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was at the University of Utah. If he were going to live up to the spiritual commitment he had made as a sophomore in college, Eric knew that attending church only six months out of the year during the off-season didn’t give him the balance he needed.

Eric Weddle’s family, which includes: Eric, his wife Chanel, daughter Brooklyn Marie (2 years) and son Gaige (7 months). They live in the San Diego area where he plays football for the Chargers.  (Family photo) Eric Weddle’s family, which includes: Eric, his wife Chanel, daughter Brooklyn Marie (2 years) and son Gaige (7 months). They live in the San Diego area where he plays football for the Chargers. (Family photo)

Deep down, he knew he could do more, and he felt compelled to sacrifice sleep in order to maintain spirituality in his life. While attending the LDS Church’s full three-hour block of services wasn’t possible on game days, Eric decided in his third season that he needed to at least attend the one-hour sacrament meeting — the principal family worship service where members sing hymns, say prayers, take the weekly sacrament and listen to speakers deliver uplifting messages.

“When I didn’t go to church during my first two years in the NFL, I didn’t know how it would impact me as a person. It was hard to go six or seven months without church,” Eric said. “Going into my third year, I felt like I could do more. Football is important, but my family and faith are also important, and no matter how good a football player I am, I knew I still needed to be a good member of the church. Having that spiritual connection helped me throughout the season. It brought balance, I felt better about myself, and saw improvements in all aspects of my life.”

San Diego Chargers second-round football draft pick Eric Weddle of Utah laughs as he answers a question during a news conference in San Diego, Sunday, April 29, 2007. (Denis Poroy, Associated Press) San Diego Chargers second-round football draft pick Eric Weddle of Utah laughs as he answers a question during a news conference in San Diego, Sunday, April 29, 2007. (Denis Poroy, Associated Press)

Making time for church before Charger home games made such a difference for Eric that by his fourth NFL season he decided to include his Sunday church routine on road trips as well.

When the Chargers played away from San Diego, Eric located the closest Latter-day Saint congregation that met at 9 a.m. and arranged for a cab. Because he was not able to stay for long, Eric would show up in street clothes instead of the customary shirt and tie. He was welcomed warmly at each chapel, although few recognized him. Only after he shook hands and introduced himself did some church members, usually fans of the local team, recognize his name. For the most part, Eric was pretty anonymous during his short church visits.

Prior to the Chargers-Raiders game in Oakland in October 2010, Eric realized he hadn’t shared his testimony in a while. Dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, he walked to the pulpit in a congregation that met near the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and shared his innermost convictions with a chapel full of complete strangers. He didn’t introduce himself or talk about football, but he expressed gratitude for the blessing of the gospel in his life. His remarks lasted less than five minutes.

Fans cheer on Eric Weddle and hang up a sign at a recent San Diego Chargers game.  (Jerry Johnston, Deseret News) Fans cheer on Eric Weddle and hang up a sign at a recent San Diego Chargers game. (Jerry Johnston, Deseret News)

When Eric was finished, he returned to his seat. He was not surprised when nobody seemed to recognize him. Sometimes in other cities, church members were surprised to learn he was a Mormon. He didn’t get the chance to interact with people very much because he had to leave before the end of the service in order to get back to the stadium. It is unclear how many Raider fans were at church that day, but it was certainly a unique moment in the history of the Chargers-Raiders AFC West rivalry.

“I was glad I bore my testimony,” Eric said of the experience. “It’s a blessing to know that the church and the gospel are the same no matter where I go. I can find a church and know the services and feel at home there.”

Weddle believes making church a priority has helped bring a balance to his life that can otherwise be lost in the midst of the constant focus on football required during an NFL season.

NFL football player, former Ute and honorary coach Eric Weddle tries to chase down a ball runner in his street clothes after his extra point got blocked during the University of Utah Red and white football game Apr 19, 2008 in Salt Lake City.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) NFL football player, former Ute and honorary coach Eric Weddle tries to chase down a ball runner in his street clothes after his extra point got blocked during the University of Utah Red and white football game Apr 19, 2008 in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

“It has been hard to do, but I make a point, regardless of where I am, to do it,” Eric said. “I have noticed a difference in myself spiritually. I have had a better relationship with my wife and kids. It’s because I am putting the gospel first. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize it.”

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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