Utah Football’s Offensive Line Protecting Salt Lake Community’s Blindside
SALT LAKE CITY- We’ve all heard of Superman, Batman, and Spiderman. City heroes dedicated to making the places they reside better through superhuman power, strength, and smarts. What about the unassuming heroes though? Guys like Utah football’s offensive line who suit up in the fall with pads and helmets, tasked with helping to keep quarterback Cam Rising upright on the field, and now taking on the Salt Lake Community’s blindside as well?
So grateful to be involved in such an amazing cause! https://t.co/k2gAvNfTuu
— OblockCares (@OblockCares) October 31, 2022
OBlock Cares was created with that very thing in mind. Take care of the quarterback during games and take care of the community everywhere in between.
From helping to find puppies and kitties homes with the Humane Society, to continuing Sunday Supper with Utah Foster Care, the Utes’ offensive line has been hard at work making sure the vulnerable in Salt Lake City are well cared for.
Recently, one of the founders of OBlock Cares, Tyler Knaak, connected with Braxton and Auna, over a game of pool during a Sunday Supper event and took them on a Christmas shopping spree with money he earned from the Across The Green golf tournament earlier this year.
It’s no secret there has been a lot of angst in the college football community over Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), but Knaak and OBlock Cares is determined to show the good that can be done with it, rather than the negative aspects that are always focused on.
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“It’s always been the idea of NIL for good,” Knaak said. “I’m trying to show people that, yes, we do get money for NIL and these companies supporting us as student-athletes, but we are giving a lot as athletes to the university and state- the money we get can be used for better resources than getting an X-Box or a fancy new chain. Instead, it can be used to give back to a family and community that really needs it that are going through tougher times than we are.”
In this case, the money was partially used for an X-Box, something Braxton and Auna wanted for themselves, but it was also spread out amongst their entire family.
Utah Foster Care Brand and Marketing Manager Amanda Walker was along for the entire day and thinks the selfless example Knaak set, inspired Braxton and Auna to follow suit with the rest of their family. After the kids got the few things they really wanted, they used the rest of the money to take care of their foster siblings, parents and grandparents, ensuring everyone around them gets to have a great Christmas too.
“With a history of trauma, it can take time and effort to build trust with an adult,” Walker said. “What started as a friendly game of pool between Tyler, and a starstruck Auna and Braxton has grown into a trusting friendship and mentoring opportunity. They watch how Tyler interacts with others and treats people. They can feel that Tyler truly cares about them and their future. They recognized that Tyler could have used the NIL money on himself but instead chose to give back. They followed Tyler’s example by choosing to buy some gifts for others on their shopping outing.”
The day continued with Knaak taking Braxton, Auana and their entire family on a tour of Utah’s football facility before capping things off with a family dinner at Crown Burger. The kids got to enjoy the player’s lounge filled with games, including a pool table as well as experience the power of “family” Utah football-style. Knaak wanted to share with the kids one of the places he calls home and feels safe in, in an effort to show them what is possible.
“We’re all human beings, we all have gone through struggles, we’ve all gone through our positive points, but for them to see me as an equal and look at me as a family member,” Knaak said. “Family doesn’t just mean blood, it means everything around it. Showing them what I call family and I call home gives me a feeling that they can call that their partial home as well. It gives it a big family atmosphere to it.”
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Walker noted what Knaak gave that family was so much more than a shopping spree or a day in the football facility. Knaak’s efforts have given both kids something to aspire to- Braxton is now interested in maybe pursuing football and Auna just wants to pass the random kindness on. Knaak and Utah football provided a master class on how it’s possible to come together from different backgrounds and become a family.
“The joy that was experienced and the impact of that day will last far beyond the holidays,” Walker said. “Tyler gave an inside look into the team building and good that happens behind the scenes of Utah football. These players understand the influence they have and the example they can be to our community. We witnessed the hard work and dedication required to accomplish what Utah football has accomplished. This hard work and dedication is something Utah’s foster parents practice daily as they provide safety and healing for Utah’s most vulnerable population.
A few days later, Knaak along with Jaren Kump, Peter Terry, Johnny Maea, Shrintaro Mann, and Falcon Kaumatule of OBlock Cares showed up for Utah Foster Care again. This time it was to enjoy hot cocoa and cookies with foster families in attendance before they got to enjoy a movie night at the Larry H. Miller Megaplex. Head coach Kyle Whittingham adjusted Utah’s Rose Bowl practice schedule a tad so the players could show up for one of Salt Lake’s most vulnerable populations.
What originally started as a relationship with former Utah linebacker Stevenson Sylvester has grown and spread to Nick Ford and Utah football fan Ryan Kirkpatrick and now to Knaak and the rest of the Utah football offensive line. Even that has started to spread to other spheres of Utah Athletics. Various members of Utah volleyball and Utah gymnastics have also shown up in a big way for Utah Foster Care.
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For Walker, seeing the “ripple effect” that one person started and has now grown is incredible.
“We are incredibly grateful for each person who had a part in bringing Utah athletics together in support of foster care,” Walker said. “Ongoing support from Sly and Nick Ford’s desire to make “good food for good people” with the help of a fan, has grown into lasting memories, friendships, and a larger village rallying around Utah’s children in foster care. Utah’s foster families feel seen and supported through these efforts. Community support can make all the difference in continuing helping children heal.”
It might sound a little cliche, but for Knaak it’s all about the protective instincts, just like in the movie the Blindside. When everyone else is safe and ok, so is Knaak and the OBlock.
“You watch the Blindside, and they talk about ‘protective instincts,’” Knaak said. “We all have protective instincts no matter where we go- whether it’s our family, the families with foster care, or our football family- it’s our main goal to protect. When I was recruited, I told coach Harding and coach Whitt that I wanted to give back. This community has given me so much support through the recruiting process, and after I committed. OBlock Cares was created to show somebody cares about the community as much as they care about us. We fill up Rice-Eccles every week and we love our fans, we just wanted to show their care doesn’t go unnoticed and we care as much about them as they care about us.”
Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports
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