April 9, 2007
PULLMAN, Wash. - Former Washington State University and Detroit Lions standout Mike Utley will be honored by WSU Alumni Association members in Wenatchee, Wash., Friday, April 13 at 5:30 p.m., at the Highlander Golf and Country Club.
Tickets are $20 for individuals or $35 for a couple. They are available through the Mel Henkle CPA firm in East Wenatchee (884-0260) or Matt Eastman Insurance in Wenatchee (663-1112). The event is expected to sell out; therefore, tickets will not be sold at the event itself. Former WSU Football Coach Jim Walden (1978-86) will be on hand to introduce Utley.
When Utley wrapped up his distinguished collegiate football career at WSU in the fall of 1988, he departed as the most highly decorated gridiron star in Cougar history - including his selection to six All-America first teams. His success in college propelled him to the National Football League where he was an early third round selection by the Detroit Lions in the spring of 1989.
Three months later he was playing in the NFL and, three years after entering the league, his football career came to a sudden end. In early November 1991, Utley suffered a severe injury during Detroit's game with the Los Angeles Rams. The sixth and seventh cervical vertebra was fractured, rendering him a quadriplegic. Not one to let the injury defeat him, Utley was carried off the field while giving his now famous "thumbs up" signal.
Since then Utley has formed the Mike Utley Foundation and uses the foundation and proceeds from the sale of "Thumbs Up" merchandise to aid in the research of spinal cord injuries. His foundation has three purposes: raise money for research, educate people in wheelchairs, along with their families and friends, and help people understand that rehabilitation is one of the most critical parts of recovery.
Utley has made guest appearances on numerous national radio and television programs to promote his Foundation and its work, and he has received countless awards citing his courage and dedication. An active athlete to this day, Utley enjoys snow skiing, kayaking, scuba diving, boating, jet skiing, hand cycling, and water skiing.
Inducted into the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame, Feb. 21, 2004, Utley enrolled at WSU in the fall of 1984, after being recruited out of Kennedy High in Seattle by Walden. After redshirting in 1984, Utley broke into WSU's starting lineup at tackle four games into the 1985 season. By the end of his career, he had started 42 straight games, including the last 34 at guard.
Utley helped WSU to an Aloha Bowl victory over Houston in 1988 as the team set a school record for total offense with 5,439 yards. After the season Utley was selected to play in the Hula Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl, and became just the second Cougar player to receive consensus All-America status by the NCAA.