Utah Football: From SLC and back again, Utes LT Andrew Albers takes unconventional route
Utah football •6’7” lineman left team to become a youth pastor, but realized he missed the game.
Published: August 17, 2014 08:53PM
Updated: August 17, 2014 10:36PM
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Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Offensive tackle Andrew Albers of the University of Utah football team wraps up a practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Tuesday morning, Aug. 12, 2014.

Costa Mesa High’s Andrew Albers had everything you look for in a left tackle.

He was long, nimble, smart — heck, he was the son of an offensive line instructor.

If only he wasn’t so nice.

His father, Frank, told him, “When you’re outside of the lines, you need to be the good, decent human being, but when you cross those lines, in this game, you have to have a little nastiness.”

Eventually, he came around to that notion. He could manhandle his peers for a couple of hours each week. Still, when he drove a fellow high schooler from one hash to another and slammed him to the ground, dislocating his hip, Andrew wasn’t impressed with himself. He was worried for the kid.

“He understands the bigger picture,” said then-head coach Jeremy Osso, who watched Albers grow from a freshman receiver into the 6-foot-7, 300-pound mauler he is today.

At the center of that picture, for Albers, is God. Like many Utah football players, he left the U. to serve his church, but his journey is slightly atypical.

To begin with, Albers was not as coveted as you might expect coming out of high school, for three reasons: 1) Costa Mesa is far from a SoCal powerhouse; 2) Albers split his time between, at one point, basketball, volleyball, track and football; and 3) hernia surgeries stopped him from developing to his full potential in the weight room.

Albers had “nibbles” from Arizona State, SMU and Washington State, but no offers, so Utah’s Aaron Roderick persuaded him to graduate early in December 2010 and walk on in the spring at the U., where he might earn a scholarship.

Then he was hit by what Frank calls “a perfect storm.”

He arrived in March, with about a month and a half of school remaining, and was lonely. He got mono, and, thinking it was just strep throat, tried to play through it for four weeks as his sickness worsened and his spleen enlarged. His grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and his grandmother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Beyond that, he just missed being a normal 17-year-old. While his friends were planning for prom, Osso said, “you’re shoveling the snow in the morning so you can get your car out so you can get to practice at 6 a.m.”

In summer 2011, Albers went to a church retreat at Hume Lake in Sequoia National Forest. When he came home, he told his dad he’d fallen in love with the idea of becoming a youth pastor, and despite Frank’s plea that he sleep on it, decided his playing days were over.

A few months later, the two were watching football together, and Albers told dad he’d made a mistake: He sorely missed the game he was once reluctant to embrace.

Orange Coast College took a chance on him. In his sophomore season, he was named second team all-conference.

He was still dedicated to spreading the gospel to kids, however. He continued to pitch in at Harbor Trinity Baptist Church on Tuesdays and Sundays or — after he took a job at Planet Fitness that caused him to work Sundays — as much his schedule would allow.

“Whatever help I could give, I did that,” he said.

Frank said Andrew struck the right balance, not just between nasty and nice, but between serving God and taking advantage of his natural gifts. He still has his faith, but he has other goals — like making the NFL, and, if not, going to graduate school.

And when he returned to Salt Lake City, now on scholarship, Albers said he was ready this time for a challenge.

His roundabout path “taught me a lot about myself, my family,” he said. “It really taught me to work hard for what I want and take what life gives you and turn it into something positive.”

Offensive line coach Jim Harding said Andrew battled injuries in spring, so he didn’t get a fair evaluation of him, but that in fall camp he’s improved and is learning to play with better pad level. At the moment, senior Marc Pouvave is ahead of him in the battle for No. 2 left tackle.

Frank — who works at a lineman camp run by 49ers great Jesse Sapolu — still talks to his son about what he can improve (run blocking), and Andrew knows there won’t be a day when coaches say “Oh, yes. That’s it!”

But by playing football, he feels he’s following the higher plan now.

He’ll have to keep the faith. And, sometimes, he’ll have to be nasty.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

Andrew Albers file

Measurables • 6-foot-7, 301 pounds

Year • Junior (used redshirt in 2013)

Hometown • Costa Mesa, Calif.

High school • Played football, basketball, track and volleyball; team captain in basketball and football; began high school career as receiver and led team in catches, then became a tight end and a tackle as he packed on pounds; on the hardwood, averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds as a senior.

Alberts’ background

Albers’ dad, Frank, said he was strict with Albers, to the extent that when he brought home a report card with two C’s as a sophomore — and given that Frank didn’t think he had worked very hard — he confiscated Albers’ cellphone and a laptop Albers had saved up to buy. But Albers used Frank’s reputation to his advantage. One day, Costa Mesa head coach Jeremy Osso was talking with Frank, then the linebackers coach, in his office. A basketball teammate of Albers walked by and asked why Frank didn’t let Albers come to the party the night before. After he left, Osso asked Frank, “There was a party last night?” Frank told him he didn’t know of any party, but he’d told Albers to use Frank’s reputation as an excuse to avoid troublesome situations — Albers would tell teammates that Frank would drug test him.