SALT LAKE CITY — It worked so well with Paul Kruger, the Utah football team is trying the same thing again. That is, taking a tall, athletic quarterback and turning him into a defensive player.
The latest to make the change is Chad Manis, a 6-foot-5, 238-pounder who was recruited to Utah as a quarterback but was switched to the defensive side of the ball, where he has become the starting stud linebacker.
Not bad for a guy who never played linebacker in his life before last year — if you don't count Pop Warner football when he was 7 years old.
If the Utes lined up today, Manis would be the starter at one of the outside linebacking positions. He made the switch from quarterback after the 2008 season and played a handful of games last year at linebacker before earning the starting spot this year.
"Linebacker is about the complete opposite of quarterback," says Manis with a laugh. "But I was up for it. I knew Kruger did it. They do a great job here of bringing in guys who are athletes and can play any position."
Manis came to Utah in 2007 after playing quarterback for Cerritos Junior College, where he was rated among the top 100 JC recruits by Rivals.com. He redshirted a year and played in three games of mop-up duty in 2008 behind Brian Johnson.
However, after the Sugar Bowl, Ute coach Kyle Whittingham and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake approached him and asked if he'd like to switch to defense.
"Coach Whitt and coach Sitake came to me and I was glad, really happy about the switch," Manis said. "Anything I could do to get on the field and help contribute to the team, I was up for."
Manis had come to Utah at 198 pounds, but worked in the weight room to get up to his current weight, just under 240.
"We had a surplus of quarterbacks at the time and we knew Chad had a good blend of strength, size and athletic ability," said Whittingham. "He wanted to get on the field, so we moved him over to the defensive side. He's made a complete transition to the defensive side of the ball and he's playing good football for us."
Besides being the defensive coordinator, Sitake is also the linebackers coach, where he works closely with Manis and the Utes' other linebackers. He's been thrilled with the transformation Manis has made.
"He's doing great," said Sitake. "He's got a linebacker's mentality. He was really good as a quarterback, but I saw him as a guy that could help our defense. We made the switch and it's been the best thing for us. I'm excited to have a 6-5, 235-pounder playing linebacker."
Manis believes all of his years playing quarterback help him as a linebacker, and the coaches agree.
"The guy played quarterback and he instinctively knows what an offense has to do and that's been a benefit for him," said Sitake. "His mentality and attitude have been great."
Manis calls linebacker "a completely different end of the spectrum" from quarterback, but enjoys the fast tempo of the defense and how everyone runs for the ball.
He said he also enjoys running at people instead of away from them.
As a stud linebacker, Manis is almost like another defensive end, which is what Kruger played before moving on to the NFL. At stud, Manis is often on the line of scrimmage keeping track of the tight end while trying to hold the edge against the opposing offense.
"I'm fast enough to keep up with the tight ends," he says. "(As linebackers) we're not as fast as the safeties, not as slow as the D-line, but we've got to help with both of their jobs."
Besides being with Casey, his wife of three months, Manis said he enjoys hanging out with his fellow linebackers, which include J.J. Williams, Matt Martinez, Chaz Walker, Jamel King, Boo Anderson, V.J. Feheko and others.
"Our linebacking group is a tight group, a family, and we all support each other and have fun out there together," Manis said.
Manis understands he has to work hard to keep his starting spot with so much talent behind him, and he plans to make the most of his senior season.
"It's something I've worked for," Manis said. "It's not mine yet, so I'm just going to keep working hard and pushing the guys around me. I'm a guy who likes to challenge myself, and I'm still trying to meet that challenge."