There was a time not so long ago when Big Tony Bergstrom, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive tackle who grew up in Salt Lake City and played his high school ball at Skyline, his college ball at Utah and now is on the edge of an ascent into the NFL, didn’t want to play football and he wasn’t so big.
Let somebody else be Bib the Michelin Man, Baby Huey, the Incredible Bulk.
It wasn’t him.
His exact descriptive wording goes like this: “I had no desire to play college football. I liked being 240. I didn’t want to be a 320-pound fat-ass.”
He preferred the idea of staying slim and going to medical school.
Well … not anymore.
Football is about to become his professional career, after a stellar four years with the Utes, which included an All-Pac-12 showing during his senior season, when he massively anchored Utah’s offensive front.
“I’m living the dream,” he says. “The NFL is what I’m going for. I’m hoping to do it. As a young kid, I dreamed of it, then, in high school, you realize there’s no way, so you focus on school, and, then, things work out for you in college and, next thing, you’re preparing for the draft. It’s crazy how things work out.”
At the Sun Bowl, where Utah capped its season by defeating Georgia Tech, an NFL scout in attendance was asked which player he was there to see and the first name out of his mouth was … Tony Bergstrom.
Bergstrom says he’s heard all kinds of guesses as to where he’ll go in the draft: “Everything from the second round to the sixth. It just depends on who you talk to.”
Former Ute offensive lineman Zane Beadles initially was projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick, Bergstrom says. But the Broncos saw him at the Senior Bowl and loved him. He was taken in the second round.
It is at this week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the top postseason college all-star game, where Bergstrom is attempting to follow Beadles’ successful path from school-boy tackle to pro guard — through a week of practices, the game itself, and, then, on to the NFL Combine. Thus far, he’s gotten strong reviews.
“Tony Bergstrom of Utah continues to improve,” wrote Tony Pauline on Wednesday, covering the practices for SI.com. “He’s more than held his own during one-on-one blocking drills and in scrimmage. After a slow start, Bergstrom has really elevated his play as the week progressed.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham dropped that one little bit of information on Bergstrom after the Sun Bowl win — that he had learned that morning his senior offensive team leader was invited to the Combine.
Since that time, Bergstrom has been in Phoenix, training hard, and now in Mobile, trying to impress. Part of the regimen is pumping iron and working on his speed. But the toughest part is what it often has been for the O lineman — eating and eating and eating some more. On account of his metabolism, Bergstrom burns weight easily. To combat that, he’s on an ambitious daily 5,400-calorie eating plan.
“I’m one of those guys who eats and lifts all the time, but I still lose weight,” he says. “Right now, I’m 315. I lost a little at the end of the season. But I’m eating and taking supplements now. It’s the opposite of most people. I’d love to just have a salad and call it quits.”
Bergstrom started playing football when he was 8 years old, but never really flourished in it at the junior levels — until ninth grade. In eighth grade, he grew to 6-foot-5, and ever since has tried to fill out his frame.
“Everyone else walked around school with a lunchbox,” he says. “I had a cooler.”
Bergstrom prospered at Skyline, where he says he started to love playing football. Still, even after he gained momentum, he did not see himself as a college prospect. He played offensive and defensive line in his senior year at 240, but the notion of ballooning his body to enormous proportions in coming years didn’t appeal to him.
When schools from all around, including BYU and Utah, beckoned, he relented.
“Urban Meyer was a hard man to say ‘no’ to,” Bergstrom says. “All of a sudden, I wanted to play college football.”
Utah had the lifestyle he desired, he says. “It had everything I wanted, and all of my family had gone there. I went to one practice, and Urban Meyer was jumping on everybody. I heard more F-bombs at that practice than in any R-rated movie. I liked football to be intense.”
After graduating from Skyline, Bergstrom went straightaway on an LDS Church mission to Sacramento, Calif. It was there that he learned a key to success in football — embracing what he calls the “daily grind.”
It was the same when he returned to Utah, where he says the major football emphasis is “learning to love hard work, learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, respecting the process.”
“I learned how to play football there,” he says. “The coaches do a great job of teaching that.”
Bergstrom blew through his freshman and sophomore seasons, getting a lot of playing time, and then bloomed into his full collegiate potential during his junior and senior years. In between, he married former Utah and current Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Paul Kruger’s sister, Jessica.
One tip Kruger gave his brother-in-law was that NFL coaches love offensive linemen who sport an attitude, who have some nasty to them, who talk trash and hit guys at the end of plays.
Jessica constantly reminded her husband before games: “If you get in a fight, that’s great.”
Having taken his lessons at Utah, especially through that recently completed senior year when the Utes dropped to 0-4 in the Pac-12 and had to heave-ho their way back to respectability, Bergstrom now is ready for whatever comes next.
Whittingham said earlier this season that Bergstrom has “the mass and the great feet, athleticism and mentality to go far.”
The Salt Lake City boy is on the verge of doing exactly that — at the Senior Bowl, at the NFL Combine, in the draft. And if he does, maybe he’ll go crazy and celebrate by eating a salad and calling it quits.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.