No Utah football player has traveled a rockier road in recent months than Dominique Hatfield. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior endured a personal hell through much of the offseason, but now the door is open again for him to retake his place as a defensive leader and playmaker for the Utes.
The door also is wide open for Utah's defense to become even more imposing now that Hatfield's talents are once again available to use.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham announced on Monday that Hatfield had been reinstated to the team after being dismissed in July following his arrest on suspicion of aggravated robbery. Hatfield was charged with aggravated robbery after a man alleged that the Utah defensive back stole money from him at knife point outside a convenience store where the victim allegedly set up a meeting with him to buy an Xbox.
All charges were dropped at the end of July when video surveillance footage from the convenience store showed that Hatfield was not involved in the robbery. An unrelated misdemeanor assault charge is still pending with the Salt Lake City Police Department, but the university cleared Hatfield and let him return to school. Whittingham believed his cornerback also deserved to rejoin the football team.
“I just felt he had served enough of a punishment,” Whittingham said. “As things are turning out, it was our belief, he was deserving to be reinstated back on the football team.”
What will Hatfield's return do for Utah's secondary? Simply put, he is a player that instantly makes that unit much more dangerous.
Hatfield made a switch from receiver to cornerback a year ago and enjoyed a breakout season. He started 10 games, recording 38 tackles with an interception and nine pass breakups. By season's end Hatfield had emerged as an excellent cover corner and the Utes anticipated bringing him back as a key building block for the secondary this fall.
Now Hatfield will get a second chance to make an impact. Whittingham said he will play as soon as he is in game shape. His experience will definitely help strengthen a pass defense that yielded 279 yards to Michigan last week – even while forcing three interceptions.
Utah can't afford to let any team pile up yardage through the air since the Utes will see plenty of pass-happy offenses once Pac-12 play begins. Hatfield's presence will help keep those offenses honest.
His teammates are eager to see exactly what Hatfield can do to build on what he did as a sophomore.
“Everybody is excited for him to come back,” senior defensive end Jason Fanaika said. “He's obviously a playmaker. You saw that last year. Having him out there on the island, I definitely trust him. We're excited to see him and how well he does.”
— Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.