SALT LAKE CITY — Mo Lee didn't hesitate. When approached about a position switch late in spring ball, the Utah junior readily accepted the challenge of moving from wide receiver to cornerback.
"I have a defensive mind. I've always had a defensive mind since high school," Lee said. "As a receiver I used to be very aggressive and sometimes you get in trouble with that. So I made this transition to switch to defense and I think it was the best move for me and the team."
Lee has adapted quickly.
After the Utes' first fall scrimmage, head coach Kyle Whittingham singled him out.
"He's been getting better each day," Whittingham said. "And he's going to be challenging for one of those starting corner jobs if he continues on the track that's he on."
Lee continued his progression Saturday with a notable interception in practice.
"His learning curve has been very, very minimal. He's done a nice job," Whittingham said. "He's got a lot of natural things that he does, foot-work wise and with his hands, that are very instinctive for the position."
Lee does have experience on defense. He played on both sides of the ball in high school, but saw most of his action in the secondary at safety. The focus shifted completely to receiver when the Miami product played for Palomar Community College. Lee led the team in receptions for two years, racking up 91 career catches for 1,644 yards and 20 touchdowns.
A redshirt year at Utah followed as Lee tried to work his way up the depth chart. Whittingham said Lee wasn't buried at receiver, but acknowledged he was down the list a little bit. As such, he became one of those guys that the coaching staff looked at to see if a move to another position would be beneficial to the team.
"We study these guys every day. We evaluate them every single day, every single drill, and sometimes you can see a guy that you can project that might be successful at the corner spot," Whittingham said. "Those guys are hard to find. Corners are extremely hard to find."
Lee, however, has the athleticism to do it — along with a 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame and 4.4 speed. Whittingham said he was also willing, very willing to give it a try.
"Competitive players just want to get on the field," Whittingham continued. "He understood that was perhaps a way to get on the field sooner and so he was all for the move."
Lee jumped right in over the final days of spring ball and continued his transformation to defense over the summer, smoothing out his back pedal and other things.
"I'm just working hard. I'm glad I made the move," he said. "I got a chance to transition fast, so I'm learning on the fly."8 comments on this story
The biggest challenge, he said, is keeping his feet squared and not crossing over,
"If you cross over you can get beat easily so that was my biggest transition," Lee said while expressing confidence that Utah's new starters in the secondary will fit in well with the experienced front seven.
"Coach Whit and Coach (Kalani) Sitake will have all of us ready and have us in the right position to make plays," Lee said. "So we just have to put the effort in."
And that's something Lee is busy doing — with a smile on his face.
"I'm loving it," he said.
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