It hasn't been an easy journey to the NFL for Chicago Bears fullback Tyler Clutts. While struggling to break into professional football, he has worked as a server in a sports bar and as an insurance adjuster. He's risen at 5:30 in the morning to get in his workouts before arriving at the office. He followed a strict diet and conditioning routine even when his chance of playing football at any level seemed slight.
Clutts has been in and out of football, playing for a time with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos and Utah Blaze, the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the AFL, and a brief stint with the Cleveland Browns earlier this year. But finally, he's found a team that desires his services and a coach willing to put in the time to help him develop fully as a player.
"I can't thank the Bears enough," Clutts said at Halas Hall on Friday. "It's been such a struggle to reach this point in my life and now I can see that the effort was worth it. I never gave up, but looking back I never really imagined that things would turn out this well."
FB Tyler Clutts
Clutts, who was picked up by the Bears in September, is particularly grateful to running backs coach Tim Spencer, a product of both the USFL and the NFL.
"I think that Tim had a plan in mind when I first came to the Bears," Clutts said. "He felt I was developed enough as a player to function to some degree, but he also told me there was much more I was capable of doing. He's put in countless hours helping me refine my technique and become a better player in game-day situations."
Clutts is a prototypical fullback with his close-to-the-ground stance, raw power and instincts for the ball. The Bears' leading rusher, Matt Forte, believes Clutts' blocking abilities have contributed to the success of the run game this season.
"I look in front of me and there's Tyler clearing the way," Forte said. "It makes a difference in the level of my production when I see those holes out there."
After the win over the Eagles last Monday night, Clutts said he thought about how things could have turned out.
"I might have left the Browns and never worked another down in football," he said. "I could have been back at the bar, or putting in 9-to-5 at another job somewhere. But there I was on Monday NIght Football. The fact that it happened is unbelievable."
Clutts sees the upcoming game against Detroit as pivotal for the Bears, noting that although the Lions won the first meeting, things have changed for Chicago since then.
"This year the team seemed to get a slow start after that initial win against Atlanta," he said. "It got discouraging there for a while, but then the momentum switched in our favor. We have three wins in a row and plan to have four by Sunday night.
"There are a lot of teams in playoff contention right now. For us to reach the postseason, we need to keep going. I feel that the team has come together. Everybody is playing well. You go out there knowing you are expected to excel so that's what you do. We're usually cast as underdogs but we don't care what people say about us. We're used to being underestimated. We're confident because only we know what we are capable of."
Success takes constant effort. So how often does Clutts take the time to step back and enjoy his current situation?
"Rarely," he said. "I'm too busy for that. I'll admit that on the trip home last Monday I was smiling like a crazy person. I was exhausted. We all were. It was a hard-fought game. But before moving on mentally and focusing on Detroit, I took a while to think about how great this all is. Honestly, I've never been happier in my life than I am right now."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.