Seven interceptions (two of them a pick-6), and 50 solo tackles — these are the goals Dominique Hatfield sees on his wall every morning when we he wakes up. It’s a dramatically different approach to what he set out to do last year at this time: regain his teammates’ trust.
One year ago, Hatfield didn’t have a place on the Utah football team. He was arrested for aggravated robbery in July 2015 when he allegedly held a man at knifepoint for $180. As a result, head coach Kyle Whittingham dismissed Hatfield from the program.
Today, Hatfield has the respect of each and every one of his teammates and because of his dedication, his vocal fearlessness and his overall leadership, he was voted captain for the 2016 season.
“It was tough, but keeping faith and having a support system, it wasn’t too hard to focus on the dream,” Hatfield said.
Clearly the road to one of the most respected positions on the team hasn’t been a piece of cake.
While Hatfield couldn’t call himself a Ute for about a month this past year, he continued to put in his time at the gym and his coaches noticed how hard he was working to rectify his situation, as did his teammates.
Other members of the team kept Hatfield up to date with issues that were being addressed in practice, along with pictures of new schemes, and their faith never wavered in the cornerback. The Utah football team has a reputation for having a family-like atmosphere and although Hatfield may not have been officially on the team, he was still in the family.
Hatfield was soon reinstated to the team. Although he had some catching up to do after missing the season opener against Michigan, he was quick to put the past behind him and get to work. He started 11 games in 2015, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing, and he had a reputation as a hothead.
Up against Arizona, the Wildcats constructed a gameplan to exploit that fault, and it worked. They threw balls to the receivers he was covering, and as a result of a few completions, some aggressiveness from both sides and maybe a little too much contact, Hatfield was noticeably frustrated and was even flagged a couple of times for unsportsmanlike conduct. Although some may see his temper as a downfall, Hatfield thinks of it as an advantage because more often than not, no other player can match his energy and his heart when he’s out there on the field.
“I’m a fiery player; sometimes emotions get the best of you during a game. I could probably change that a little bit, but my attitude and my hunger, that’s what I go off of, so whatever happens in a course of a game, happens,” Hatfield said. “I never take anything off the field. I never want to fight off the field, but within the lines, whatever goes down, goes down.”
Hatfield’s immediate responses may get him trouble, but he’s going to continue to get after it, he’s going to continue stepping up his game.
That aggravated assault charge eventually got solved when he pleaded no contest to it and ever since it happened, he has been working to be a better player and, more importantly, a better man. As a result, the most unlikely things one could have imagined a year ago happened — Hatfield was named a captain — and quite frankly, it’s something Hatfield can barely fathom.
“A success story for him from where he came, the situation he was in last year, to where he’s come now, is incredible,” Whittingham said. “He had some bumps in the road, but he’s a smart kid, extremely intelligent and he knows this is his opportunity.”
As Hatfield would put it, he made a complete 360.
“I was grateful for my players picking me simply because they let me know they trust me again — with everything,” Hatfield said. “Not just coming out and playing football, they know I can do that, but being a leader and holding people accountable — holding myself accountable — that’s real.”
Cory Butler-Byrd finds himself in a similar position as Hatfield. He was charged with criminal mischief in July when he damaged a university police car and he has entered a guilty-plea in abeyance. He was indefinitely suspended from the team following the incident, but like Hatfield, Butler-Byrd was reinstated.
Hatfield knows Butler-Byrd fairly well from playing against him in high school in Los Angeles, and whether or not Hatfield had been named a captain, he would still be doing everything in his power to help Butler-Byrd get back on track.
“Cory’s good, strong-minded,” Hatfield said. “He’ll be focused and we all got his back. We know things don’t work out how you want them to work out. God puts you through battles, but he’ll be fine.”
Hatfield has already accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of regaining not only his teammates’ trust, but also their respect, so those goals he set out for the season are 100 percent attainable in his mind. However, among a group of guys who racked up a total of 22 interceptions in 2015, he may need to get a little greedy, so Hatfield knows he has to want it more. In a leadership role this season, it’s going to be expected.