Former Gophers, NFL tight end Ben Utecht becomes advocate for brain disease awareness

  • Article by: JACK SATZINGER , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 14, 2014 - 12:12 AM

LAKEVILLE, Minn. — Chatter echoed throughout Ben Utecht's home just miles south of the Twin Cities on a recent Monday morning as his daughters got dressed and ready for the day.

"I want the pink polka dot glasses," Elleora, the oldest at 5 years old, called out while descending the suburban home's staircase into the living room. Wearing a pink dress and accessories to match, she gave her father a hug.

"You're beautiful," said Utecht, 33, a former NFL and University of Minnesota tight end.

Utecht's wife, Karyn, wasn't far behind, toting 3-year-old twins Katriel and Amy. He met his wife while starring on Minnesota's football team more than a decade ago.

"They're all daddy's girls," Utecht told the Minnesota Daily (http://bit.ly/1mAPOK9).

But amid Utecht's pride in his family rests a strong sense of fear. After suffering from multiple concussions on the field, he could soon lose the ability to remember the names or faces of his girls.

After being named first-team All-Big Ten during his senior season, Utecht played in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals and won a Super Bowl during his four-year career.

Utecht's career ended in 2009 after his fifth documented concussion left him limp on the practice field, strapped to a board and carried off in an ambulance.

Since then, Utecht has combined two of his greatest passions — family and singing. He's gaining national attention with the release of a new video that documents his love for his family. He wrote the song in case his head injuries worsen.

While Utecht's playing career is over, reminders of his time on the field are everywhere.

A bookshelf in the family's living room displays a Gophers football plaque, which neighbors a small trophy from the Colts' 2007 Super Bowl victory.

A grand piano that Utecht played in his rising YouTube music video titled "You Will Always Be My Girls" sits a few feet away. The original song has had more than 400,000 views since its upload less than two weeks ago.

Utecht said he often can remember the lyrics to songs seamlessly but on occasion has to reference a copy of the music because of "gaps" in his memory.

He said he never wanted to cope with the idea of losing memories, but after a rude awakening at a good friend's house, he reconsidered. Sitting at a table with his longtime friend and friend's wife, Utecht asked why he wasn't invited to their wedding.

They responded to his question with disbelief and showed him a photo album from the wedding where Utecht sang and was a groomsman.

"To this day, I don't have any recollection of that whatsoever," Utecht said.

Once he realized his memory issues were real, Utecht's musical partner, Rick Barron, pushed him to write a love letter to his wife and daughters in case his memory got worse.

Utecht typed the letter into his iPad while riding on a plane, pulling the brim of his baseball cap over his face to hide tears.

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