The Eric Weddle Story

It’s finally done. I am pleased to announce the release of “No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story.”

Holding a copy of my new book, "No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story."

Holding a copy of my new book, “No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story.”

The story behind this book started with a text message. On the morning of February 17, 2010, my cell phone vibrated, and the name Eric Weddle popped up as I sat at my cubicle on the fifth floor of the old Deseret News building in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah.

I don’t normally receive a lot of texts, so I immediately reached over and flipped open the phone to read the message. The San Diego Chargers safety and former University of Utah all-American was willing to grant a special interview. I smiled with satisfaction.

“Hey, Mr. Toone, this is Eric Weddle. Morgan [Scalley] gave me your number to talk about a piece you want to do. Would you like to call me tonight so we can talk?”

My purpose in tracking Eric down was getting him to share the details of his decision to be baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2004.

Religious conversion stories often include powerful, compelling, and life-changing experiences that strengthen faith and deepen testimonies. Brigham Young, second president of the LDS Church, once said that he “would rather hear men tell their own experiences . . . than hear any kind of preaching” (Discourses of Brigham Young, 335). Outside of Eric’s family, friends, teammates, and some others, few were likely aware of his baptism prior to his sophomore season at the University of Utah. It wasn’t a secret, but it isn’t in Eric’s friendly nature to go around broadcasting or pushing his religious convictions on others. Eric Weddle’s conversion story was one he was pleased and eager to share. I was thrilled that he trusted me enough to let me publish it. With added insight from his parents and additional details from a few former Utah teammates, the 2,200-word story was published in Mormon Times, a section of the Deseret News, on March 24, 2010.

Eric’s story must have hit the mark with readers because the response received from this single article was off the charts. E-mails and comments from impressed BYU Cougars, loyal Utah Utes, and many others flooded in, expressing admiration and respect for the former all-American. A mother living in the Tongan Islands was touched by the details of Eric’s conversion story and couldn’t wait to share it with her nine children. A man from Provo, Utah, wanted to know more about Eric’s life. He was not alone.

In the days that followed, I continued to marvel at the reader reaction and contemplated what else I might write about Eric. Then one night as I drove home, I was hit with a crazy idea.

What about a book on Eric Weddle? Almost as instantly as the idea came, I shot it down. Why would Eric allow me—a journalist who had never written a book and someone he has never met in person—to tell his story? I was sure he would politely listen to my idea and say, “No thanks, bud.”

Despite my doubts, after two sleepless nights I was unable to shake the idea. I planned what I might say. I knew I could utilize my reporter skills and gather information, interview, write, edit, and revise as well as the next journalist. I had followed Eric’s college and professional football careers as both a sportswriter and a fan, and I believed his story was compelling. It boiled down to the matter of having the courage to ask him. While I expected him to decline, I knew that if I didn’t at least pitch the idea, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I really had nothing to lose.

I also considered the fact that Eric was only twenty-five years old at the time, and still somewhat young in his NFL career, with many great years ahead. Wouldn’t it make more sense to wait? Even so, something pushed me forward. The next day at work I typed a short e-mail to Eric, clicked “send,” and waited expectantly.

Eric responded a week later with the message, “Hey, bud, sorry it took so long to get back to you. U serious about doing a book?” That was it. Did this mean he was actually considering the project? I fired back a message to assure him I was eager to tackle the task. Another week crawled by. When his name finally popped into my inbox, I was prepared for rejection. Instead, I read the words, “Yeah, I think we can definitely do something. I want you to call my agent, David Canter. Great guy. How are things with u?”

All at once I felt honored, thrilled, and terrified. Now I actually had to go through with it. I wasn’t sure where to start, but I called Eric’s agent and plowed forward nonetheless. I wanted the book to be an honest on-the-field, off-the-field portrait of Eric Weddle. Nobody had a problem with that. We shared the hope that the book could somehow inspire young people to work hard and overcome adversity on the way to achieving their dreams. Thus began my adventurous excursion through the life of Eric Steven Weddle.

Our first face-to-face meeting took place Friday, June 11, 2010, at his southern California home. Two of the Weddle children, Brooklyn and Gaige, played with toys on the living room floor while my wife, Lisa, and I visited with Eric’s wife, Chanel.

That’s when Mr. Weddle himself entered from the garage, dangling keys and a sack of Subway sandwiches and chips. He wore a bright yellow Lakers T-shirt, long athletic shorts, and sneakers. A wellgroomed beard covered his face but couldn’t hide his big smile. After warm introductions, we sat at the kitchen table and unwrapped sandwiches. Three months earlier, I had never even spoken with Eric—now here we were eating together in his kitchen.

We discussed several topics as we became acquainted over the next thirty minutes. Between bites of our subs, I learned quickly that Eric is a huge Lakers fan, and Kobe Bryant is his favorite player. One of Eric’s lifelong dreams is to play one-on-one with the L.A. hoop star. He predicted the Lakers would defeat the Boston Celtics by game six of the 2010 NBA finals.

Another of Eric’s aspirations is to someday play a round of golf with Tiger Woods. Nothing is more relaxing to Eric than getting out on a beautiful green course with friends and his bag of golf clubs—Chanel permitting, of course.

After polishing off half of his foot-long sub, Eric asked where I went to college. I was proud to inform him that Lisa and I both graduated from the University of Utah. He grinned with approval. In an instant we moved from being new friends to kindred spirits. No former player supports the University of Utah football program more than Eric Weddle.

Later that night, after the kids went to bed, Eric and I sat up late talking about his childhood, his days at Alta Loma High School, the University of Utah, and how he courted Chanel. Four hours flew by, and we were both exhausted.

Eric Weddle stands beside his jet black camaro, "Black Beauty."

Eric Weddle stands beside his jet black camaro, “Black Beauty.”

The next morning I was invited to climb into Eric’s black 2010 SS Camaro, a.k.a. “Black Beauty,” for an hour’s drive north on Interstate 15 to tour his hometown of Alta Loma and other parts of Rancho Cucamonga. Sporting manly shades, Eric drove his car with his left hand on the wheel and his right hand on the gearshift, as if he were a stunt man in The Fast and the Furious. As we cruised north, engine purring, R&B music pulsing through the speakers, the NFL safety thoughtfully shared experiences regarding football and his life. In Rancho Cucamonga, we drove past Alta Loma High School, Chaffey College (where the Alta Loma Braves played home football games), practice fields and ballparks, his parents’ home, and Chanel’s family’s former residence. At one red light, Eric rolled down his window for a quick hello to some Latter-day Saint missionaries who were walking by.

On the drive back to his home, I learned that Eric has a tendency to sleepwalk, he loves to play all kinds of video games, and he lives for action movies with sword-fighting warriors and epic battle scenes. For added game day inspiration, he has downloaded to his iPod memorable dialogue from films such as BraveheartTroy, and The Lord of the Rings. The well-rounded Weddle has also read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and favors werewolves. “Jacob is so much more real than Edward,” he explained.

After Eric and I fought traffic on the way back to his home, my wife and I were invited to the home of Eric’s friend and former San Diego teammate, Ryon Bingham, where we enjoyed a barbecue in Bingham’s tropical paradise of a backyard. The weekend concluded the following morning as we attended LDS Church services with the Weddles. We arrived a few minutes late but found an open bench in the middle of the chapel. While Chanel pulled out picture books and a plastic container of animal cookies for their kids, Eric grabbed the LDS hymnbook and showed me his two favorite hymns—“Have I Done Any Good?” and “Praise to the Man.” As the hour-long service carried on, Eric listened attentively, laughed at an occasional joke, and helped his wife manage the kids. When we noticed a frustrated parent carrying a screaming child out the side  exit during the final speaker’s remarks, Eric watched sympathetically.

“Ouch,” he said.

Eric's parents, Steve and Debbie Weddle, left, with Eric, Chanel and daughter Brooklyn.

Eric’s parents, Steve and Debbie Weddle, left, with Eric, Chanel and daughter Brooklyn.

Before leaving for the airport, we met Eric’s parents, Steve and Debbie. Steve was decked out in Chargers gear, a common occurrence according to his family. Eric’s dad also had a Lakers T-shirt on hand for the L.A.-Boston NBA finals game that afternoon. Like any proud father, Steve was more than willing to talk about his son’s achievements. Debbie fussed over her grandchildren and made pleasant conversation. It was easy to see why Eric thinks so highly of his parents.

During the 2010 season, access to Eric was limited due to his schedule. As the months passed, I held extensive interviews and informal chats with more than sixty other people—members of Eric’s family, friends, current and former teammates, coaches, current and former opponents, and other acquaintances.

A second trip to beautiful, sunny, southern California came the weekend of October 24, 2010, when the Chargers played the New England Patriots. The game provided an opportunity to experience the NFL atmosphere in San Diego, as well as to watch Eric and the San Diego defense square off with the Pats’ MVP quarterback Tom Brady. It was the first NFL game I had ever attended. I had never witnessed tailgate parties or pregame festivities like this before. Canopies and vehicles surrounded Qualcomm Stadium and stretched in every direction. The smell of barbecue sauce and sizzling meat on the grill wafted in the breeze. “Weddle Way” was easy to find by following the No. 32 jerseys.

Inside Qualcomm Stadium, the Weddle fan base sat in the lower level near the north end zone. While Chanel and a friend entertained three-year-old Brooklyn and one-year-old Gaige, more than 68,000 fans watched the Chargers stage a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback that fell short when a 50-yard field goal attempt by San Diego kicker Kris Brown smacked off the right-side upright. The Patriots won 23–20. Weddle recorded five tackles in the game. Afterward we rendezvoused at the Weddle home, where family and friends gathered to visit with the sore NFL player. Eric found time to speak with everyone.

At Qualcomm Stadium prior to 2011 kickoff between the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots.

At Qualcomm Stadium prior to 2011 kickoff between the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots.

There are approximately 750 miles between Eric’s home near San Diego and my home in Utah, so we communicated mostly through phone calls and text messages through the duration of the project. On a few occasions when he came to Utah, we arranged to meet for breakfast. He loves a hearty breakfast, followed by a workout. I also tagged along as Eric strolled the sidelines at the 2011 Utah spring red-and-white football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. More than nine months into the project, I thought I knew most of the relevant details of Eric Weddle’s life. Then he surprised me again. As we talked over breakfast at The Original Pancake House in Salt Lake City one April morning in 2011, he related another experience I had never heard before about his off-the-field relationship with former Utah teammate.

Feeling in awe of the story yet a little frustrated, I remarked that if this book was ever going to be written, he had to stop holding out on me. He grinned as he replied, “You got to remember—I do bang my head for a living.”

Several months later, I saw another side of Eric when I attended the press conference announcing offensive lineman Kris Dielman’s retirement at Chargers Park, the team’s headquarters. Prior to the press conference and far from the media, I witnessed Eric’s genuine concern for his teammate as he sought out Dielman and his family for a hug before the emotional announcement.

The next day I tagged along in Weddle’s golf cart as he played eighteen holes with two San Diego teammates, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and center Scott Mruczkowski. Eric had a nickname for everyone, and in between drives and putts there was good-natured sparring and teasing going on. Everyone laughed when Eric spontaneously invented a song and dance. If he finished the hole with par, he would walk low to the ground, pump his arms, and sing, with an R&B beat, “riding the par train.” If he recorded a double bogey, he was “riding the bogey train” and he needed to “get off.” Regardless of where he is or what he is doing, you can be sure Eric is competing and having fun to the fullest.

One of my greatest moments in this journey came when I challenged Eric to a game of “Madden Football” on the Xbox at his house. He, of course, selected the San Diego Chargers, while I was the Philadelphia Eagles. Fortune shone on me first when his defensive back tipped a pass into the hands of my wide-open receiver for a touchdown. I didn’t say anything because the last thing I wanted to do was motivate him to beat me. The weirdest part was seeing Eric Weddle, sitting on the couch, playing the game as Eric Weddle. More than twenty-five minutes later, I trailed 14–13 late in the second half when Chanel announced it was time to head for the airport and my return flight to Utah. Eric told me I had one final drive to beat him. What could I do? I ran the same play five times in a row—with all four receivers running short routes—in hurry-up offense mode. With Michael Vick as my QB, I drove the Eagles down the field and scored the winning touchdown on a short pass to receiver Jason Avant. When he crossed the goal line, I wanted to scream out, “I just beat Eric Weddle!” but I didn’t feel it would be appropriate.

Early on in the long process of putting the puzzle pieces of Eric’s life story together, his father, Steve, pulled me aside and got right to the point. He asked the question many readers may be wondering: “Why write a book about my son, Eric? He is only 25 years old.”

Steve had a point—we don’t see a lot of hour-long specials on ESPN or books published about five-foot-eleven, 205-pound blue-collar safeties. What really sets Eric apart from the others?

I didn’t have a good answer for Steve that day, but I’ve had a few years to ponder his question. Although Eric will be the first to acknowledge his weaknesses, I hope his experiences demonstrate the basic themes of family values, goal-setting, faith, sportsmanship, and courage amid adversity. To me, these and other qualities are evidence of Eric’s inspirational example. Most of all I admire his drive to prove the critics wrong.

“There is something about someone telling you they don’t like you or that you can’t do something,” Eric has explained. “They judge you. For me it’s added motivation to prove those people wrong. I’ll show them I am better than they thought I was, and I am not a guy who forgets easily.”

Who wouldn’t respect a man who has achieved success all on his own merits? I respect the fact that Eric has earned everything he has through dedication and honest hard work without taking shortcuts.

As talented an athlete as Eric is on the field, he is also a difference-maker off the field. What I find refreshing about Eric is that while he is devoted to the LDS faith, he doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. You might not ever suspect he’s a Mormon in a casual setting. But you would quickly see that he is an individual with a set of principles, and he lives by them. Aside from being an active member of his church, his top priority is taking care of his family.

Eric finds joy in serving others, whether it’s through charitable events in the community or teaching a youngster how to tackle at a football camp.

He is a great example of humility. His friends, family, and old teammates admire him for not developing an ego with his success. “He is still the same, fun-loving Eric,” they agree. He is so unassuming that he blends right in with the crowd. Few fans even recognize him when he eats at a restaurant with his family.

Weddle has a genuine ability to tune out the world and make the person he is talking to feel as though their conversation is the only one that matters, even when it’s somebody he just met. He has a way of making those he interacts with feel important and part of his inner circle.

Finally, the saying, “Live each day like it’s your last,” Eric’s daily motto, was evident in every experience he shared.

We can all take a lesson from that.

The cover of "No Excuses, No Regrets"

The cover of “No Excuses, No Regrets”

The book has just been published and can be found in all the book stores or online. I am grateful to Shadow Mountain taking on this book and first-time author.

There is a certain satisfactory feeling that comes with knowing you have completed a big project. I might even feel crazy enough to try it again some day.

For those who read “No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story,” I hope you find worth your time. I was inspired by Weddle, his story and what he stands for, and hope you will be as well. Alright, now go and buy it! You can find it at Amazon or any LDS bookstore.

I want to thank Roy Burton and Ben Hutchins for giving me a chance to talk about my publishing experience on their websites.

Roy published this fun piece in September 2013.

Ben posted this interview with me on Nov. 25, 2014.

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