It’s been great to have him around our guys. He’s such a great ambassador for our program. We’re very proud that he’s an alum. —Kyle Whittingham, Utah head football coach
This is the fifth 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.
After guiding the University of Utah to a thrilling, come-from-behind, 31-28 victory over Oregon State in 2008, Brian Johnson found about 80 text messages on his phone.
The quarterback wasn’t surprised to see they were all from the same person — his buddy Eric Weddle.
As the former Ute watched the game, he reacted to almost every play with a text to Johnson.
“What play call was that?”
“What happened on that throw? Got to make the throw on third down.”
“Why are so many receivers dropping the ball?”
Johnson, now Utah’s co-offensive coordinator, said it was fun to see Weddle’s analysis.
“During my senior year, Eric Weddle would text me his play-by-play analysis of each game. I would come back to the locker room and find my phone had blown up with text messages, series by series, quarter by quarter,” Johnson said. “It meant a lot to me for him to get into what we were doing. He is truly a great friend who has always been there, and it’s nice to have that. We are fortunate (at Utah) to have a group of guys that love coming back and still want to be part of the program.”
Maintaining close ties with the Utah football program and sharing his knowledge with younger players has been an important part of Eric’s life even as he has moved on. His experiences with the Utes greatly impacted his life, and he maintains a genuine love for people in the program, the university and its proud athletic tradition.
“It’s been great to have him around our guys,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s such a great ambassador for our program. We’re very proud that he’s an alum.”
Eric’s ambassadorship for the University of Utah officially began in 2007 during his rookie season. As soon as he learned the Utes were coming to San Diego to play Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl, he checked his schedule. He was delighted to see the Chargers would host the Detroit Lions during bowl week. Eric attended Ute practices at the University of San Diego, and he and his wife Chanel spent three nights in the San Diego Sheraton Hotel and Marina with the team. The Sunday before the bowl game, several Utes came to Qualcomm and watched the Chargers throttle the Lions, 51–14.
Eric said the week with his old teammates was a special reunion.
“It was amazing to see all the players and coaches again,” Eric said. “They are like my family, my brothers. I value any opportunity to show my support.”
Kyle Gunther, a former Utah lineman turned sports talk radio personality, recalled when Eric pulled up to the team hotel in his Honda Accord.
“He was still the same guy we all remembered,” Gunther said. “I was expecting him to pull up in a brand-new Cadillac Escalade. He had played a full year in the NFL and was still rocking the same Honda Accord, the same car he had in college. No gold teeth, no diamond earrings, and he was still wearing the same stuff he wore at Utah. He sat around and talked to 15 or 20 guys for 20 minutes, then went to dinner with some of them. You won’t find anyone saying they weren’t friends with Eric Weddle. I don’t think he has ever had an enemy. He hasn’t changed from the day I met him. He continues to be very personable. He is just one of the guys.”
Eric has made an effort to go to as many of Utah’s games as his schedule permits. He has also been generous with his advice to the team and offers helpful tips about improving their games. Often he gives team members challenges and encourages them to do better, sometimes changing the outcome of the game.
In 2010, with an NFL game at home on Monday night, Eric was able to cheer for the Utes in their game against San Diego State. The Utah defense struggled mightily in the first half of that Mountain West Conference matchup, allowing SDSU quarterback Ryan Lindley to complete 24-of-34 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. The Aztecs led at intermission, 27–24.
When Utah cornerback Brandon Burton emerged from the locker room after halftime, Weddle pulled him aside and challenged the defensive back to take charge in the second half and inspire his teammates to overcome the adversity. Utah’s defense responded, and the Utes pulled out a much-needed victory, 38–34.
“Basically, what he said was, ‘Get the defense going,’” Burton said. “‘Get out there and make plays. Just do what you know how to do to. Relax — you know you’re the best at it.’ And I just went out there and tried to do what I had to do, and the defense, we all backed each other up. We all had each other’s backs, and we went out and made plays.”
When it was announced that Utah was being invited to join the Pac-12 Conference, no one was more proud or excited than Eric.
“It was surreal,” he said, reacting to the news about the invitation. “It’s amazing. I dreamed of it when I came up here in 2003, and for it to be a reality, not only for the players now, but for the former players, we’re all proud to be part of it and make it happen.”
Many current and former Utah players consider Eric to be a close friend and mentor, including Cleveland’s Paul Kruger, Tennessee’s Robert Johnson and Pittsburgh’s Stevenson Sylvester.
“I am a real big Eric Weddle fan,” Kruger said in 2011. “He’s consistent and a tremendous competitor on the field. I think he is absolutely one of the best safeties in the NFL. He has proven that over the last couple years. Teams recognize him as a dangerous player. He was great to me when I got here to Utah and gave me great advice when I left. I have appreciated his friendship over the years.”