Utah's Brian Blechen, shown tackling TCU's Jimmy Young, is… (George Frey / Getty Images )
Brian Blechen was a Moorpark High quarterback when he attended a prospects camp at Utah.
Utes coaches offered him a scholarship — and switched him to safety on the eve of his first training camp.
Then, after a freshman All-American season in 2010, they switched him again. Now he plays linebacker.
That, Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham said, should come as no surprise.
"Our M.O. in recruiting is to go find the raw material," he said.
In Blechen, Utah found speed, toughness and overall athletic ability. And a physical frame to build upon.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound sophomore is an emerging leader for a defense that intends to shut down USC on Saturday at the Coliseum in the inaugural Pacific 12 Conference game.
Utah played last season in the Mountain West Conference.
"I don't think they know exactly what's coming, but I think they respect us," Blechen said of the Trojans. "I don't think they're overlooking us."
USC knows all about Blechen, who plays the so-called "stud" linebacker spot.
Trojans Coach Lane Kiffin has described the Utes' front seven as the strength of a team that defeated Montana State, 27-10, in its opener.
Blechen intercepted two passes, returning the first 39 yards to set up a touchdown.
"He's very athletic, all over the place and kind of a team-leader-type guy," Kiffin said. "He played really well last year so you can see how he's just stepped in there [at linebacker]."
Football toughness runs in Blechen's bloodline.
His grandfather, Bob, was a lineman at Covina High and Whittier College. Bob Blechen was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1956 but was cut from the NFL team. No matter, he played semi-pro football into his 60s and was inducted into the American Football Assn. Hall of Fame, which honors minor league and semi-pro players.
"I don't know how he did that," Brian said of his grandfather's longevity in the sport. "It seems almost impossible to me."
In a 1987 interview with The Times, former Whittier and NFL coach George Allen said, "[Bob] Blechen used to run like he had a piano on his back, but he was the smartest player I ever coached."
Brian Blechen runs better and has similar football acumen.
When Blechen transferred in from Simi Valley Royal High before his junior season, Moorpark Coach Tim Lins wasn't sure what kind of player he had.
By the time he was done, Blechen had played quarterback, safety, receiver and punter and led Moorpark to consecutive Southern Section championship games.
"He may be the only guy that I've coached that could've played every single position on the field and could've done well," said Lins, who has coached high school football for nearly 30 years. "He probably would have been all-league at any of the spots."
Utah coaches recognized the versatility.
Blechen was initially surprised when they asked how he felt about playing safety, but he quickly immersed himself in the Utes' scheme.
Last season, he intercepted four passes. One set up an overtime victory over Pittsburgh. Another saved a victory over San Diego State.
Blechen's career in the secondary ended when he bulked up from 205 pounds to 220 before spring practice.
"It was obvious he was outgrowing the safety position," Whittingham said.
As he was at safety, Blechen has been a quick study at linebacker. He credits middle linebacker Chaz Walker and "rover" linebacker Matt Martinez — both seniors — for easing his transition.
Blechen also cites the defensive line and members of the secondary for his six career interceptions.
"Almost every time, I'm just doing my job and the quarterback just kind of throws it to me," he said. "I was really just doing what we're coached to do."
Blechen is looking forward to playing against USC at the Coliseum, where he attended about a one game a year while growing up.
"I'm just excited to go there and be the away team," he said.
Meanwhile, he thinks he has found a permanent home at linebacker.
"We think that's the last stop for him," Whittingham said. "He's finally found his ultimate home and that's where we're going to keep him."