Arriving at Division II Ashland University as a linebacker, the 2014 Edison graduate had just 16 tackles in limited time in 19 games during the 2014 and 2015 seasons for the Eagles.
Needing to see the field, Utter switched from linebacker to defensive end — and the results have been stunning. Through the season’s first four games, Utter has already made a huge impact.
The junior has 15 tackles, four sacks, one pass breakup, three quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. The Eagles (4-0) enter this week’s game at Tiffin ranked No. 5 in the Div. II coaches poll.
“The biggest thing is, the kid I was playing behind last year, Brandon Gency, he’s an animal and I wasn’t going to play over him,” Utter said. “And the coaches wanted to see me play. I was going to do whatever I could to get out here.
“It was a transition I was kind of used to, as I played defensive end a bit when I was a sophomore at Edison,” he added. “I kind of understood the basic concept of it, and it’s been a lot less to think about, allowing me to just play the game freely.”
Seeing Utter, listed at 6-foot-1, 234 pounds — up 20 pounds from his senior year at Edison, excel in the fashion he has so far is no surprise to AU defensive coordinator Tim Rose.
“Austin brings an incredible spirit and relentless attitude,” Rose said. “He’s a quick player who has adapted well to that position. He’s just a guy that no matter what happens out there, you don’t question it.
“Austin gives his all he has every snap,” he added. “We’re very excited with the way he’s playing so far.”
Despite being a bit undersized, when Utter made a recruiting visit to AU, 13th year head coach Lee Owens was amazed at how quick and explosive he was.
“We knew the intangibles were off the charts and he’d find a way to get on the field, which is what has happened” Owens said. “Austin had to kind of work and develop to find a niche and establish himself on our defense.
“He’s really worked to get more size to him and play more of a rush end on the edge,” he added. “Austin is just relentless in his rush, he doesn’t give up on it. It’s as much effort as anything, but Austin is also deceptively quick, strong and tough to defend.”
It’s been a strong start for the Eagles on both sides of the ball, but notably on defense where they have allowed just 25 points in three games.
“The nice thing is we mesh really well as a defensive unit, because we have one of the best defensive coaching staffs in the country,” Utter said. “They’ve been unbelievable in terms of getting us prepped the best we can be. We’re ready for anything teams present to us.”
At Edison, Utter was a Division V honorable mention All-Ohio selection at linebacker in 2013. He made 107 tackles (12 for loss) with two interceptions and a forced fumble at linebacker, also earning him All-Sandusky Bay Conference and Northwest District first team honors.
A standout two-way player, Utter also ran for 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns as a running back for the Chargers in 2013.
But three years removed from Friday night lights in the fall at Milan, Utter is now a key piece to a program that has Div. II national championship aspirations.
“I really almost can’t describe the words for it,” Utter said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted since high school and something I worked toward.
“I couldn’t be happier to be here, honestly,” he added. “To be able to also be here with kids like Dale (Irby) and Griff (Michael Griffin), to represent our area, it says a lot about where we’re from. It’s just a blessing.”