Four seasons ago, Utah linebacker Chase Hansen was asked what his goals were in football. His response:

“I’m not one to brag, but for me, I’ve always felt that it’s not really a choice. I have to be the best. And whether that’s here at Utah, in the conference or in the country, I’ve always set my goals pretty high. My goals are set as high as anyone can set a goal.”

And what is that goal?

“Can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s lofty.”

That was before Hansen had played a single down of college football, all the way back when he was a quarterback-in-waiting for the Utes. He laughed about those days after practice on Monday, allowing for a moment the thought of throwing touchdown passes to ricochet through his mind, like a Super Ball chucked in a shower stall.

“I tell people I could have played quarterback if I’d wanted to,” he said, half-laughing, half-serious. “… I tried to make it clear, I could have thrown a better ball than [Britain Covey].”

It was Covey, a receiver who reached outside his normal position — like Hansen, he also played quarterback in high school — to throw a 58-yard touchdown pass to QB Tyler Huntley in Utah’s win over Arizona on Friday night.

Back in the day, the inexperienced Hansen said: “That’s one of the things I love about playing quarterback. People look to the quarterback to be [a certain] type of guy. On the field, I’m not angry, but I’m instantly ready to play, to be a football player, to do whatever it takes to win.”

Which in this case meant moving to … defense.

Since Hansen was switched to the other side of the ball, he’s thrived, becoming — just as he said he had no choice in the matter — one of the best defenders in the Pac-12. First, he starred for the Utes as a strong safety, and then when the need became apparent, he stepped in at linebacker this season, making what might have been a weak spot a strength, anchoring Utah’s typically rocksteady resistance.

ABOUT CHASE HANSEN


Class: Senior.
Position: Linebacker.
Height/weight: 6-foot-3, 230 pounds.
Awards:  Honorable mention All-Pac-12 safety, Chuck Bednarik Award player of the  week and Pac-12 defensive player of the week for his  12-tackle/game-clinching pick-6 performance against Northern Illinois,  Parade All-American in high school.
Position switches: Played two games at quarterback as a freshman, seven at safety, played safety as a sophomore and junior, moved to linebacker before this season.
Hometown: Highland, Utah.
Hobbies: Pingpong, reading, wakeboarding.
Major: Consumer and community studies.

Hansen said the move was “pretty natural.”

“I’ve always loved hitting,” he said. “At the same time, there was a lot I had to learn.”

One of the items on the agenda for Hansen was learning how to deal with injuries. Prior to this season, shoulder problems had bedeviled Hansen, placing in front of him the biggest challenge of his college career. Through the initial half of this season, though, those issues have subsided, enabling his talent, his presence to solidify the Ute defense, a group that has given up just 96 points, fewer than any other unit in the Pac-12.

“It’s been a huge blessing to be halfway through the season and to be feeling good,” Hansen said. “Knock on wood, I’ve been able to make it this far.”

That means more to him this season than in any other, considering it is his last one in a Utah uniform. And while his football future might be bright, his college experience is in its stretch run, the ongoing punctuation to a period in his life that has taught him much, and which he intends with his Ute teammates, to make the most competitively.

“We know what we’re capable of,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep rolling.”

After losing their first two conference games and winning consecutive games over Stanford and Arizona, Hansen said his team is in position for a strong finish, one in which it might be able to win the South division, something the Utes have never done.

“We’ve never lost confidence,” he said. “There were a few things we wished we could have done differently against Washington and Washington State. But we understand, if we play our best ball, we don’t think there’s anybody who can beat us.”

That includes Saturday night’s game at Rice-Eccles against division-rival USC, which will be a huge deal for the Utes, a must-win.

“In the Pac-12, every game is a dogfight,” Hansen said. “We’re going to get the best of a great team. One loss can set you back, one win can push you forward. We understand that it’s up for grabs in the South. We just got to prepare and be ready to go. … These are the games I’ll look back on. That’s what I love about it. Lining up against some team that you know is going to be a battle. USC always has a lot of great talent at the skill positions. They always have a great offensive line. And the quarterback is always a big deal.”

On Saturday night, Hansen plans on introducing himself to freshman Trojan quarterback JT Daniels. Perhaps he’ll see in him the reflection of a long-ago frosh QB who had nothing but open road in front of him.

“Sometimes I think about what would have happened for me at quarterback,” Hansen said. “But I try not to look back too much.”

No reason to when there’s yet so much for the linebacker to look forward to, whatever his lofty, unspoken goal is.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.