Long road lands Butler-Byrd in Utah defensive backfield

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Cory Butler-Byrd was penciled in as a starter nearly from the day he stepped on the Utah campus. Unofficially, of course, considering the coaching staff hasn't finalized the depth chart.

The prized transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College, however, was listed as the starter at the slot position on offense after one week of camp. Days later, he was listed as a starting cornerback.

One thing was clear after two weeks - Butler-Byrd is going to be on the field. Immediately.

''Everybody understood that he was a two-way kid,'' cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah said. ''I wanted him to be part of the defense because I knew he had the toughness and quickness that fits our scheme.''

Shah knew because he stuck with Butler-Byrd for years as other schools dropped their recruitment of the 5-foot-9, 171-pounder. Butler-Byrd was ranked the No. 17 junior college player by Rivals.com and received a four-star rating from Scout.com. He said the last 40-yard dash he ran was timed at 4.31 unofficially and 4.34 officially.

Butler-Byrd didn't have his academics in order coming out of high school, partially because of a high school switch, so he opted for junior college. Even then there were issues and schools that were interested, including Arizona and Ohio State, disappeared.

''My first year, I was the hottest thing,'' Butler-Byrd said. ''Then all of sudden schools were hitting me with excuses like you're too small or we have all our corners, we have all our receivers. Or some schools were just straight blunt with me, your academics aren't up to par, we don't think you're going to make it. Everybody kind of backed off. Utah is the only school that stayed.

''Other coaches, I kind of felt like it was a business. ... It's like they changed their phone number overnight.''

Shah said it wasn't that Butler-Byrd was lazy or didn't care about his grades - there was a lack of direction. The exact qualifications were never laid out, so he had no path.

''I'm not a stranger to having a kid and being with him and staying with him and staying on him,'' Shah said. ''It takes a lot. A lot of coaches don't want to do that.''

Shah had crossed paths with the family for years as a Los Angeles native himself. That also helped gain Butler-Byrd's trust. The two were close by the time he arrived on campus.

Butler-Byrd spent the first portion of camp on the opposite side of the ball as a receiver. Then he requested a move to corner - his natural position and a position of need after projected starter Dominique Hatfield was suspended from the team. Butler-Byrd was listed as the starter within days. He's also the lead candidate to return kickoffs.

''He's a natural athlete,'' quarterback Travis Wilson said. ''I wish I still had him on offense, but I know he's going to make a great player on defense. Overall, he's a good athlete.''

Butler-Byrd joins a defense that returns nine starters, but none at cornerback. Reginald Porter is in line to start opposite Butler-Byrd as coaches have raved about his elite technique and smarts. Defensive coordinator John Pease called him an execution specialist. Justin Thomas is currently listed as the top nickleback while Brian Allen has played well and has the most size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds.

''The corner group, we've got guys that are hungry,'' Porter said. ''We didn't play last year, but the guys that are in there can play. We've just got to go prove it.''

Butler-Byrd brings aggressiveness to the field despite his size and describes his game as ''angry.'' He plays bigger and more aggressive than expected, but is also athletic enough to recover from mistakes and jump routes.

The path to Utah was one Butler-Byrd never expected, but the timing seems to be perfect for both sides.

''As a secondary as a whole, we can probably be Top 5 in the country,'' Butler-Byrd said. ''I really feel like that because I'm a pretty good corner and I don't stand out. As a whole, we're going to be pretty nice.''

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