This story originally ran in the program for the 59th NFF Annual Awards Dinner, where Mike Utley was officially inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 6, 2016.
- A 1988 consensus First-Team All-American and a two-time First-Team All-Pac-10 selection.
- Helped WSU offense lead conference and rank third nationally in total offense as a senior.
- Selected as Walter Camp Foundation Man of the Year in 2006.
- Played for coaches Jim Walden and Dennis Erickson.
- Becomes the fourth Cougar player to enter the College Football Hall of Fame.
Mike Utley remembers what it was like to be the mainstay on Washington State’s offensive line in the mid-to-late 1980s. He had one of the best vantage points in Martin Stadium to watch an offense that became prolific under Coach Dennis Erickson.
Utley’s college career, which included 43 starts, culminated when he was a consensus All-American as a senior in 1988. Washington State finished 9-3 and posted a victory over Houston in the Aloha Bowl for its first bowl victory since 1916. The Cougars also registered their first victory in history over a No. 1-ranked team, beating UCLA and College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, 34-30, that season.
“It was the offseason that was different from all the other years I was at Washington State,” Utley said of going into the 1988 season. “Everybody stayed, everybody stayed and we made a difference. The saying champions are made during the offseason.”
With Utley as one of his protectors, quarterback Timm Rosenbach passed for more than 3,000 yards in 1988. Washington State’s two 1,000-yard rushers that season, Steve Broussard and Richie Swinton, helped open up the passing game. The Cougars ranked third nationally in total offense.
“It was for me having two distinct running backs back there, two different styles but the same goal,” Utley said. “Each of these gentlemen learned how to give us offensive linemen an advantage over the defense by what they did in the backfield, by the way they set blocks for us.”
At Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Washington, Utley played end on defense, the line on offense and deep snapper on special teams. He stayed instate after choosing Washington State over Oregon. Coach Jim Walden recruited him to the Palouse, but he stayed through only two years of Utley’s eligibility before going to Iowa State to become head coach.
Walden’s offensive line coach was a drill sergeant on technique. The offensive line coach under Erickson was all about just finishing the job of blocking, which allowed Utley to use his aggression his final two seasons.
“It just blossomed into what happened on the field,” Utley said. “It was not one thing that makes a player. It is a combination of history and what you are willing to pay the price for.”
Selected in the third round of the 1989 NFL Draft by Detroit, Utley played most of three seasons for the Lions, before he suffered a career-ending spinal chord injury against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 17, 1991. In 1992, he started his own Mike Utley Foundation that provides funding for research, rehabilitation and education for those suffering from spinal chord injuries.
“I did get hurt in a game I loved so much,” Utley said. “I still love it so very much. Nothing changes as an athlete because I am injured. It is just another step of doing what you need to do to get to where you want to be… I wanted to be No. 1. I still want to be No. 1 whatever that is, whatever that takes.”
Utley was inducted into the Washington State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004, and the team’s Offensive Lineman of the Year Award carries his name.