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Jason Elies, CMT
Former Utah linebacker Tommy Hackenbruck has earned $70,000 from his frequent participation on Steve Austin's "Broken Skull Challenge." Hackenbruck returns to the show Tuesday, Dec. 19.


SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 10 years after relishing the Utah Utes’ undefeated season and Fiesta Bowl victory, linebacker Tommy Hackenbruck became a champion again.

But this time, instead of coach Urban Meyer patting him on the back, it was former pro wrestler Steve Austin.

In 2014, Hackenbruck navigated a series of strenuous challenges on Austin’s reality TV show, “Broken Skull Challenge,” and emerged a winner. In total, the Salt Lake gym owner has racked up $70,000 from his frequent participation on the show. On Tuesday, Dec. 19, Hackenbruck returns to the show to prove his physical prowess — and prove something he's long believed.

"The people with the big mouths usually are the ones that don’t finish first," Hackenbruck said in a recent interview.

During each episode of “Broken Skull Challenge,” eight contestants battle in a series of head-to-head competitions that feature physically demanding challenges. The final two competitors battle in a dirt-wrestling ring called the "Pit.” The last one standing then gets a shot at $10,000 by completing the Skullbuster, a half-mile obstacle course where the goal is to beat the previous champion’s time.

Hackenbruck, who became a winner in season one, estimates he beat his predecessor’s time by about seven seconds. In 2015, he remained unrivaled and accumulated $50,000, as the show’s current winner gets $10,000 for every episode competitors are unable to complete the Skullbuster challenge or beat the champion’s time.

And while wrestling and battling competitors — especially when you don’t know their capabilities — can be nerve-wracking, the Oregon native attributes much of his success on the show to his experience playing football at Utah.

“Being a linebacker definitely helped when I was in the Pit,” Hackenbruck said. “It’s kind of scary to be going in and wrestling someone not knowing how well they know how to wrestle or maybe not knowing if there's some lunatic that's going to start throwing punches or something. … I was never a wrestler, but being a linebacker, I think I wasn’t too intimidated to get physical, and I knew how to use my hands, how to get leverage on people and how to get lower, so yeah, playing football obviously (was) huge.”

Football also prepared Hackenbruck for “Broken Skull’s” small margin for error — one of the most difficult parts of the show.

“This isn’t like running a 5k where it’s a 20-minute race,” he said. “A lot of these (challenges) are over in a matter of seconds. It was a lot like going for a two-point conversion in football: You only get one shot and it’s a matter of inches, and you either get it or you don’t.”

While Austin’s reality show is admittedly filled with trash-talking, Hackenbruck takes pride in being a contestant who keeps quiet and focuses on getting the job done — a quality he’s been able to share with his children.

“That kind of humility, that dates back from my upbringing at my parents and being a part of Utah football family,” he said. “The trash talking is all for entertainment, but I think (producers) also do a good job kind of highlighting the good side as well, so it was kind of fun to watch it with my kids (and help them see that) sometimes you gotta worry about the quiet one. … There’s definitely some good lessons out of it. That was really my favorite part about the show: It was entertaining, it had a good message and it was something I could share with my kids and I was really proud to be a part of it.”

Hackenbruck hopes that anyone inspired by the show will seek out training at Ute CrossFit, the name of his two gyms in Salt Lake City. In fact, former “Broken Skull” contestant Corinna Coffin briefly trained at Hackenbruck’s gym and Utahn April Jorgenson was on a recent episode of the TV show.

“Utah’s a pretty fit state,” he said. “I think it’s just kind of a part of the culture here. A lot of people into fitness, a lot of people really into the outdoors, so yeah, it’s pretty awesome that we had a good showing. … We make working out fun, and hopefully, the show proves that it’s definitely effective and can get you ready for anything.”