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SALT LAKE CITY — Due to the uncertain status of starting cornerback Dominique Hatfield, the Utah secondary was a question mark heading into fall camp.
Junior college transfer Cory Butler-Byrd has waited a long time for this opportunity and he's ready to take advantage.
"He's a kid that has unbelievable instincts, a lot of natural raw ability, and I love his intensity," Utah defensive backs coach Sharrieff Shaw said. "He plays with a lot of passion and he's starting to understand the defense."
You can witness the passion in practice. Butler-Byrd plays the game with a chip on his shoulder, and he doesn't take the opportunity for granted. After two years' worth of credits and one year at junior college just to get eligible, every moment on the field is a reward.
"The reward is to be able to focus on football," Butler-Byrd said. "When I was out there, I was focused on more than just football and school. It was out-of-school and off-the-field issues that I had to deal with, the society I was living in, and the hardship of my financial standing was horrible."
Butler-Byrd is final able to focus on football. He started training camp in the to spot on the depth chart at slot receiver, but he was quickly moved to cornerback.
"I knew that he had offensive ability. I saw that the last few years I recruited him," Shaw said. "But I also knew that he could play defense."
When Hatfield was suspended from the team, Butler-Byrd turned into the shutdown corner the Utes desperately need.
"In his absence, to have Corey has been instrumental," Shaw said. "Just to have another playmaker — somebody with the speed and quickness you look for to defend our receivers every single week."
He's a kid that has unbelievable instincts, a lot of natural raw ability, and I love his intensity. He plays with a lot of passion and he's starting to understand the defense.
–Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shaw
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called Butler-Byrd's arrival a blessing for the Utes.
"He's been very important to our success as a defense," Whittingham said. "We play a lot of man coverage and you have to be able to hold up on the outside. He makes a world of difference."
The switch to the defense hasn't been as big of a deal for the former receiver as you might think, either.
"All my life, I played everything," Butler-Byrd said. "I just went from not playing that, but now playing this.
"I feel like if I made it to the NFL and got the money to make a change, I could make the world a better team."
His focus now is on beating Michigan, and making the Utes a beat team.
"It's going to be crazy," Butler-Byrd said of the Utes' opener. "I know the environment. It's going to be ridiculous.
"I think we are going to come in and make a lot of noise, not just in the Pac 12, but nationally."