Fresno (Calif.) Central East first-year coach Justin Garza knew he was coming into a program loaded with talent. With three four-star defensive backs on the roster in Hatari Byrd, Johnny Johnson Jr. and L.J. Moore, expectations were high.
None of them disappointed as Fresno Central East reached the California Central Section championship before losing two weeks ago.
Garza said the media attention was crazy all season, but he said he is extremely proud of the way his players handled the pressure the entire way.
With the season over, SoonerNation caught up with Garza about what Oklahoma fans can expect from Byrd, an OU commit.
SoonerNation: You were in a different spot than most high school coaches because you didn’t watch these kids grow up. However, what makes Hatari such a special kid?
Justin Garza: You’re right about that. I came in when he already had several offers. What we did this year was work on his development as a player. More than that, his growth as a person and his character.
SN: Interesting. Was Byrd’s character in question before or anything like that?
Garza: No, no not at all. What this team had last year were some really great players but not necessarily great teammates. This year we were all about team above self. His leadership was incredible. He matured so much.
SN: On the field, why should OU fans be pumped about Byrd coming to campus?
Garza: His talent and skill is incredible. But there are a lot of good players. What sets him apart is the way he hits people. He lowers the boom. He can strike. He can coil up on you like a snake and then make that hit.
SN: Was there a moment or two that stood out with Byrd this season?
Garza: That’s a good question. Not really a moment because with Hatari, it was always about those hits. He had some hits that really set the tone for us. He has a huge upside once he gets to college. We’re excited to see what he can do.
SN: You mention his upside. What do you mean exactly by that?
Garza: Once he gets full-time training, look out. He’s already a big, explosive kid. But once he gets to be in the weight room 100 percent and gets one-on-one teaching from a coach like Mike Stoops, it’s going to be fun to watch.
SN: Hatari made a visit to OU in October, which essentially reaffirmed his commitment to OU. Did his game or personality change following that visit?
Garza: That’s a great question and something I should have brought up first because you’re absolutely right. I don’t know if it was the visit or what, but he definitely changed after it. He came back with a lot more focus. His eyes were opened up to what he needs to do moving forward to be the best. He had a more of a sense of urgency and realized he needed to get better. He was incredible for us down the stretch.