You know, you can get sucked into a lot of things. You have to keep your mind focused. Getting to Utah was a very tough route. I’m not going to lie about it. I’m not the smartest kid in the world but I’m a hard worker. So that’s one thing I’m very good at. —Sophomore Dominique Hatfield
SALT LAKE CITY — Versatile sophomore Dominique Hatfield shares a special bond with Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah. They’re from the same neighborhood in Los Angeles, an area that Shah knows as a place where kids have a lot to overcome.
“He’s a tough kid and I know exactly what he went through,” said Shah, who noted obstacles like gangs, drug influences and individuals who don’t believe in you and try to write you off. “If a kid can make it out of there, he’s an absolute fighter.”
Hatfield, who is primed to be a multi-position standout for the Utes this season, acknowledged that it’s just rough.
“You know, you can get sucked into a lot of things. You have to keep your mind focused,” Hatfield said. “Getting to Utah was a very tough route. I’m not going to lie about it. I’m not the smartest kid in the world but I’m a hard worker. So that’s one thing I’m very good at.”
Football is another. At Crenshaw High School, Hatfield received numerous accolades as a star receiver and cornerback. It was there he caught the attention of the Utes.
“I’m going to work for anybody that’s working for me. Utah came to me and they told me to work and they said that they had my back,” Hatfield said. “So I had to get out of that place and I had to have a short memory because coming to a place like Utah is a complete turnaround, so my mind had to be different.”
While growing up in Los Angeles, Shah said Hatfield shared a special relationship with his mother. He explained that they had to build each other up at times to keep going and to keep fighting.
Hatfield knew he could make it out of the challenging environment. There was a great example recruiting him, a guy who found success in football and as an attorney.
“Coach Shah is one of the smartest dudes I know coming from that neighborhood and I just look up to him because he’s a really great dude,” he said.
And now, Shah also happens to be Hatfield’s newest position coach. A season-ending injury to Reggie Porter has prompted Utah coaches to move the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder to cornerback on occasion. Hatfield will also continue to be in the mix at wide receiver and serve as the gunner on punt coverage. Last season, he returned seven kickoffs.
“If you let him he’d be on everything,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve got to tone it down a little bit and give him a break every once in awhile. But you’re going to see a lot of Domo Hatfield on the field this year.”
Hatfield is a good weapon, Whittingham added, a very good weapon.
Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen agrees.
“He’s getting ready to play on both sides of the football. He’s an explosive playmaker,” Christensen said. “He’s an exceptional corner and we think he’s a big-time playmaker at wide receiver. He’s just splitting time doing both, and he’s very good at both.”
When Hatfield was recruited to Utah, Shah and Whittingham noted that his services were sought by both the offense and defense.
“I wanted him as a cornerback and the offense saw the same thing that I saw. They loved him as a receiver because he played both positions coming out of Crenshaw High School,” Shah said. “And I knew given some of his natural and innate ability — his feet, his hips, just his natural instincts — that he would be a great cornerback.”
And there’s more to it for Shah.
“So to coach somebody from the same part of town, the same neighborhood, is always fun because you always have something to talk about and laugh about,” Shah continued. “The thing about it now is that when I played (at nearby Dorsey High School) we absolutely beat his high school into the ground. That’s our rival. Now they have beaten us into the ground, and he never lets me live it down.”
Shah loves the banter. It reminds him of what used to take place back home.
Speaking of which, Hatfield left a pretty good defensive legacy at Crenshaw. As a senior, he had eight interceptions and was named his league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“So it’s nothing new to him playing corner,” said Whittingham, who couldn’t remember why they initially decided to put Hatfield on offense a couple of years ago. “But that is really going to bolster the secondary, particularly with Reggie Porter being gone for the year.”
In the wake of Porter’s injury, Hatfield said he’s willing to help out the team in any way he can.
As for being “fought” over by the coaches as an incoming freshman, Hatfield finds that “mind-blowing” and “kind of shocking.” He considers it a blessing to hear that.
Being able to play on offense and defense is something the 19-year-old enjoys.
“Actually I love it. I’ve been doing it since I was about 6 years old. So it’s nothing really new to me,” Hatfield said. “It’s just catching up on the speed and stuff and learning the defense really. But I’m comfortable where I’m at. There’s always room for improvement on both sides of the ball, but I feel comfortable.”
When pressed for a preference, Hatfield declined to give a definitive response.
“It really didn’t matter to me. If you kind of just asked what I liked, I liked defense because of the freedom,” he said. “But I just like having the ball in my hands, so it’s whatever to me.”
As a cornerback, however, Hatfield takes pride in being good at film study.
“Once I play defense and I get to learn the opponents, I learn their whole route tree, and that’s why I’m so good at intercepting the ball,” he said. “But I’m not just going to let offense go. I’m originally an offensive guy here and I’m going to stick with it.”
Hatfield, who made four catches for 84 yards as a freshman, is pushing for a starting job at receiver this season.
“But it’s Utah. It’s team. So wherever the coaches need me, wherever I can help out,” he said. “If it’s offense for the first six games and then defense for the last six or just 50/50, I’m good with it.”
And don’t forget the other phase of the game.
“I’m a big special teams guy. I love special teams. That’s where the most underrated plays are in football, period,” Hatfield said. “Once you make special teams plays people love you. They never forget you because they know how important it is.”
Whittingham noted that it’s possible that Hatfield may see duty on offense, defense and special teams, perhaps, in the same game.
“Yeah, absolutely. That’s why he’s working both spots. He’s going to get work at both receiver and corner (and) he’s a vital special teams guy,” Whittingham said. “He’s got a big role on special teams.”
Although Hatfield is pretty sure he’ll get tired at some point doing all three aspects, he isn’t worried about it. He credits the coaches and strength and conditioning staff for doing a good job of keeping everyone in shape. Besides, he’s confident breaks will come when needed.
Compared to his first season at Utah, Hatfield knows he’s going to be “very, very, very active” this fall.
“Last year was more about just learning the system, learning the speed, just learning college football,” Hatfield said. “Now I’m more comfortable in my skin, more comfortable on the college field. So I’m just excited to see what happens on offense, defense and special teams.”
Doing it all, he added is not a big deal.
“I’m just ready to play.”