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SALT LAKE CITY — Head coach Kyle Whittingham announced Tuesday three big changes to the Utah football program.
Whittingham told media after practice Tuesday that senior running back Joe Williams has decided to retire from football and that senior defensive end Kylie Fitts is done for the remainder of the season as a result of a season-ending injury. Additionally, he announced that senior receiver Cory Butler-Byrd has been fully reinstated into the program.
Williams, who was the team's starting running back through the first two games of the season, decided to retire as a result of not wanting to hurt his body further and have potential health concerns later in his life.
"I'm feeling that this is the right decision. I'm going to miss it, of course, playing with these guys. We're all family here and we're all boys. But it's for my best interest and I'm happy with my decision," Williams said. "I've been playing this sport since I was 6 years old, and it's just caught up with me. It would be detrimental to me in five years from now and could give me complications."
Williams struggled to have an impact in the run game this season, fumbling in both games. He finishes his career at Utah with 552 rushing yards on 126 carries, averaging 4.38 yards per carry. He averaged 3.41 yards per carry his senior season.
"His body is just worn out. It’s nothing to do with playing time, nothing to do with any bad feelings. He’s just leaving on good terms," Whittingham said. "I think he just knows that he’s not the same guy and he’s got some things that are really bothering him right now, physically. He’s going to retire and we wish him well. He did a great job for us, worked hard and was a great teammate. We wish him the best.
"It was a surprise in a way, but I could tell something was bothering him. It explains a lot," Whittingham added. "When he came to me today and kinda told me what’s going on, I couldn’t disagree with him for making the decision. It’s in his best interest, not only short term but long term."
Williams is expected to graduate from Utah in December.
Freshman Zack Moss, who was listed as the team's starting running back on Monday's depth chart, had a solid game in his debut for Utah, recording 58 rushing yards on 12 carries. Moss was a major contributor in Utah's game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. Backing up Moss is junior Troy McCormick, who splits reps at slot receiver, and Armand Shyne.
Fitts, who was dealing with injuries prior to the season start, will likely pursue a medical redshirt from the NCAA in an effort to play one more season. Fitts could likely have a strong case for a medical redshirt year having played in only one and a half games this season, but Whittingham said it wasn't a "slam dunk like other ones." Fitts has only played one full season out of the five he's allowed by the NCAA.
“Unfortunately, Kylie Fitts is done for the year," Whittingham said. "(His injury) was way more extensive than we thought when we got the initial report. He’ll be done for the year.
Butler-Byrd has concluded his suspension after entering a guilty plea in abeyance in court for damaging a police car and building prior to the start of fall camp for Utah. Butler-Byrd is eligible to play after spending the last couple of weeks on the scout team. Prior to the season start, Butler-Byrd was projected to start in the slot receiver position.
Whether Butler-Byrd will play Saturday is unknown or where he will contribute this season. "Whether or not he plays is yet to be determined," Whittingham said.
"He’s done everything that’s been asked of him," Whittingham added. "He’s still got things that he’ll adhere to the rest of the way, but he’s good to go.
With senior cornerback Dominique Hatfield recovering from an injury sustained prior to the start of the season, Butler-Byrd could be utilized on the defensive side of the ball to add depth to the secondary, but Whittingham said he'll be primarily a receiver. Butler-Byrd spent his entire junior season at cornerback for Utah.