SALT LAKE CITY — Forget all that Beatles stuff about needing and feeding him when he's 64.

At that age, Brian Blechen hopes to still be knocking the brains out of people.

Blechen, a newly minted linebacker for the Utes, is just 19. But his football career will continue for another 45 years if he has his way.

Don't laugh, it happens. His grandfather, Bob Blechen, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1956. After that season he moved on to Canada, where he played into his 50s. But even then he was just getting warmed up. He also spent a decade or so playing semi-pro ball in California until he finally hung 'em up at 64.

Talk about charging into the golden years.

"Yeah, shoot, I'd love to play as long as I could — and for me to see the way he did it, just grinding it out all those years — working hard is in my genes," Blechen said.

In his final few football years, Bob Blechen was an all-purpose, 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive lineman.

"When they needed a sub they'd just call him the day before the game and he'd fill in," said Brian Blechen.

Apparently the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Blechen arrived at Utah last year after being recruited as a quarterback, but after one week had become the starting strong safety, where he earned Freshman All-America honors. His anticipation and toughness were so good, he finished with 67 tackles and four interceptions.

Along the way he picked up a reputation as another Eric Weddle — the ex-Ute who plays for the San Diego Chargers.

"I've heard it a couple of times. I mean, it's an honor," Blechen said, adding that he and Weddle have talked several times.

While it has been said that going from safety to linebacker means going from running to hitting, Blechen isn't so sure.

"I definitely don't mind playing linebacker at all, because I love contact," he said. "As far as hitting goes, I think at safety you kind of get the chance to do hard hits because you see everything from far away, so you get a running start, where with linebackers, it's a lot more stuff you've got to do so you can get to the ball. But then you can make the hard hit."

Exactly how many hits and how hard is up to him.

"I think the hard hits will still come," he said. "I'll be more involved in every play, because it's closer."

As one great athlete put it: "My style is impetuous. My defense is impregnable, and I'm just ferocious." OK, it wasn't a linebacker; it was Mike Tyson ranting about a fight against Lennox Lewis. Still, it's not a bad philosophy to adopt.

If you don't remember Blechen, you weren't around for last season. In his first college game, he intercepted a pass in overtime against Pitt, setting up the winning field goal. His pick in the end zone with 1:22 remaining against San Diego State preserved a 38-34 lead.

He forced fumbles against TCU and Boise State and had nine tackles each against Boise State and Air Force.

Meanwhile, he chipped in numerous eye-bulging hits throughout the season and was third in the Mountain West in interceptions.

The switch doesn't necessarily mean he won't still be snagging passes. In fact, Blechen says he might actually get more. Whereas he previously had to hope the opposition went deep in order for him to get a pick, now he can have his mitts on every pass, as long as it's beneath the coverage.

So it is, the Utes now have a ferocious, impregnable, impetuous new safety-gone-linebacker. He'll still be head hunting as before, but just from a different angle. Don't be surprised if he turns in some big plays. But if not, don't worry. By his grandfather's schedule, Blechen has at least another half-century to make something happen.


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