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November 21, 2011During Utah's win last home win versus UCLA, a new fire and passion was evident even after momentum from two straight wins coming into the contest.
Perhaps it was the host of former Ute players that dotted the sideline at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Former players Eddie Wide, Matt Asiata, Zane Taylor and several others showed up to support their alma mater. Most notably, it was the presence of Eric Weddle that made the biggest impact, as the former All-American addressed the team in the locker room pre-game.
The theme centered on Weddle's passion for Utah, the experiences he had as a Ute, all of which served as a reminder and motivation for current Utes.
"[Weddle] just talked to us what it was like when he was here, and the tradition at Utah. He told us that the tradition has been going on a long time," said Kruger. "He just talked a lot about how he feels about [Utah] and how important it is to him. He said he's always following our games, and scores and that he's always trying to get up here."
The impact of Weddle's visit especially hit home to younger Utes who no doubt have heard countless stories and seen his long list of statistics and accomplishments.
"It felt good. It was my first time seeing an NFL star, and one that came from Utah. I was like, really excited. about it. He gave us a great motivational speech before the game. What I got from that was to play the game with passion, and play with energy," said redshirt freshman Jacoby Hale. "It was good to have a guy, from this school who went up and really made it. To see a guy from here have success. It just kind of drives you because you know it could be if you work hard enough. It excited me, kind of pushed me harder, and it gave me hope."
Joe Kruger, who has unlimited access to an NFL guy whose making it at the next level in older brother Paul, who plays for the Baltimore Ravens, was impressed and inspired by Weddle and his message nevertheless.
"It just got us going, because what he said was that [success] has been going on here for a long time, so we wanted to keep it going," Kruger stated. "It's important to keep that going, and his speech was a good reminder of that. Sometimes you can get caught up in your own season and forget about what was built for you already."
For safety Brian Blechen, Weddle's words reminded him of the Utes' proud history, especially on defense and that when he steps on the field, he's representing all the Utes, past and present.
"It was the first game he was able to get to in four, or five years so he asked us to play for him and just really go out and ball out," Blechen said. "It was cool to see him back and watching us, so we knew aren't just playing for ourselves and coaches, but everyone else who used to wear this uniform."
Weddle's presence apparently effected more than just the team, as he was seen on the field helping to fire up the MUSS and the rest of the crowd.
"At first I was like, who's that guy going crazy down there, then someone told me it was Weddle," said a jubilant MUSS member post-game. "Once I found out who it was, I thought that was cool, and I then I let it all go and cheered like crazy the rest of the game. He got us rocking in the MUSS tonight."
Even battle-tested veteran Matt Martinez admitted he felt the effect of Weddle's pumped up speech in the Ute locker room Saturday.
"It was awesome. I remember the last time I saw him was when he came to that spring game five years ago, and chased down that field and stuff," Martinez said. "I think it was especially big for the young guys because he's a product of Utah football. He's one of us, and he came through here, so I think that was big for a lot of guys. I think it really got everyone fired up for the game.
In a day and age in football where uniforms, locker rooms and facilities and flash are sometimes more important, or at least can help compensate for other shortcomings, having a profile success story like Weddle, or Carolina receiver Steve Smith and even the emerging Alex Smith can do nothing but help promote and showcase Utah's football program.
"For [the players] to see a guy like Weddle come back and be all about our team was huge," said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. "It's just good to have a high-profile guy like that as an example to the team, and then even for recruits to know our alumni is that invested in our program. It's just awesome. It worked out in his schedule, so he came up. We'll take him anytime he can come."