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SALT LAKE CITY — As the Utes enter their inaugural season in the Pac-12 conference, they will be led by a strong senior class. One of those seniors who will pave the way is strong safety and special teams standout Greg Bird.
An Arizona native, Bird is the youngest in a family of six children. His parents, Robert and Laurie Bird, put an emphasis on athletic success for their four boys from a young age. One thing Bird’s father did to motivate his sons was offering them financial incentives for dunking a basketball during their high school careers.
- Position: Defensive Back
- Height: 6'2"
- Weight: 214 lbs
- Birthplace: Mesa, Arizona
- School: Red Mountain HS
- Year: Senior
“My dad has probably been the biggest influence in my life,” stated Bird. “Every opportunity I have had, he has tried to help me out. He tries to tell me ways to get better. I’ve always thought he would be a great coach, and I would say all the advice he has given me has helped me a lot.”
Bird picked up a good work ethic not only from his father, but also from his older brother Adam. When Bird was 2 years old, Adam, who was 4, collected golf balls at the local course and resold them. He earned enough money that the golf course shut him down.
Sports was a way of life for Bird, but he didn't get serious about football until his teen years.
“Growing up, all we did was play sports,” said Bird. “Soccer was what I played first in elementary school, then basketball. When I started high school, my friends got me into football. Of course, my mom didn’t want me to get hurt, but I told her all my friends were playing football, so I am playing too.”
In junior high, Bird ran track and claimed the Mesa all-city 200-meter dash title. His speed and size gave him an advantage over his opponents on the football field, which also caught the attention of his coaches.
“His freshman coach came up to me and said, ‘It’s not fair to the rest of the players. We throw the ball up to Greg and he just catches it. He is on a different level than the rest of the kids,’” recalled Robert Bird.
After his sophomore season, Bird was invited to the Nike camp for elite high school athletes. It was then that Bird realized he had potential to play football at the collegiate level. As a senior in 2004, Bird was named an all-state defensive back and the Mesa City Player of the Year. He also earned all-region accolades as a linebacker, punter and wide receiver, as well as the region’s Two-Way Player of the Year award. Bird broke the Red Mountain High School record for receiving yards with 1,095 and also set the high mark with 24.8 yards per catch.
“To me, the greatest thing I liked about high school football was my coaches,” remembered Bird. “They made practice fun. We would work hard, but we would also have a good time. My coaches had a big impact on me and I still have a close relationship with them today.”
Bird’s accomplishments on the football field caught the attention of many college football recruiters.
“I had a few schools from the Mountain West as well as Penn State looking at me,” recalled Bird. “I took my visit to Utah and had a really good time. After that, I didn’t really want to go anywhere else and decided to come here.”
Bird joined the Utes in 2005 and was able to learn from many players who were part of the 2004 team that crashed the BCS and won the Fiesta Bowl. The coaches decided to redshirt Bird his first season, but the lessons he learned built a foundation that has carried him through his career at Utah.
“I was here with Eric Weddle and others like Robert Johnson, and to see the effort and time they put into film study and trying to get to know the opponent better influenced me,” said Bird. “I have learned that it takes time and effort. You can’t sit there and do nothing, and then expect things to happen. You have to put forth the effort.”
After the 2005 season, Bird left the team to serve a two-year LDS Church mission in Detroit, Mich. The coaches put Bird at safety upon his return in 2008, but he primarily played on special teams.
“The hardest part for me was during my sophomore year when I got taken off special teams and wasn’t really playing much. I was getting frustrated and wondered if I still wanted to play,” recalled Bird. “I kept pushing because I am not the type of person who quits. I pushed through it, and things got better and are great now.”
“During that time his mother sent Greg motivational sayings that he would stick to his wall, which helped,” said Robert Bird. “Greg realized he is lucky to be getting his education paid for and having the opportunity to play collegiate athletics. The coaches told him what he needed to do to get better if he wanted to play, and that is exactly what he did.”
Last year, Bird played in all 13 games and earned two starts at safety. He also blocked a punt on special teams against San Diego State that led to the game-winning touchdown.
Coming off a great junior season, Bird has been competing for increased playing time at safety and will continue to have a role on special teams. However, his efforts were slowed by missing spring practice with a shoulder injury.
With only one year left, Bird also hopes that he can teach the younger guys the same lessons he has learned.
“I want others to know how fun it is just to play,” said Bird. “Some people have bad attitudes, and when they get here they want to play right away. But you have to take on your position, relish the grind and put forth your work, and everybody will get their shot. Whatever role the coaches want you to do, you go your hardest and help out the team the best you can.”
Throughout his athletics career, Bird has received tremendous family support that has helped him become the person he is today.
“My parents were very supportive of me and still come to watch most of my games that are within a reasonable distance,” said Bird.
“Going to games to watch Greg play is the most fun thing we have ever done athletically,” stated Bird’s father. “We plan months in advance and go to about 10 games a year. It is a thrill that goes on for four months, and we have a blast.”
His father continued, “I want people to know that Greg is the nicest guy. He doesn’t talk bad about other people. He has always been a good kid that I can trust will make the right decision, and as a dad I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Bird is working toward a degree in exercise sport science and plans to pursue a career in the FBI.
Connor Malmberg is a student intern in the University of Utah Athletics Communications Office.