Britain Covey stepped onto the grass in his parents’ backyard in Provo, gloves on, cleats all tied up, and sprinted off the makeshift line of scrimmage. It was there, a week-and-a-half after he came home from his two-year LDS Church mission in March, that he realized it wasn’t going to be a cinch.
And for a guy who has made the most complex of plays on the field always seem effortless, that was the sudden harsh reality of post-mission life. Following two years as a missionary in Chile, where Covey still jokes that the Chilean homemade bread added 10 pounds of fat on his body, the Utah wide receiver had to capitalize on the few months ahead in order to arrive on campus as he did this week close to optimal shape.
A week-and-a-half after getting home, he burst off the line of scrimmage at home and his trademark shiftiness — the kind that left opposing linebackers and defensive backs discombobulated during his freshman All-American season in 2015 — was nowhere to be found. His legs weren’t used to change of direction that electrified Rice-Eccles Stadium and other Pac-12 stadiums.
“One day you’ll feel great, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m back,’ and then the next day you’ll go and you feel like you’ve run a 6.8 40,” Covey said. “It’s just a roller coaster of emotions.”
Covey, of course, knew what he was facing when he came back. All returned missionaries face the uphill task of trying to get back to where they were as student-athletes before donning the white shirt, tie and elder name badge somewhere around the globe.
His game is and always has been predicated on quickness, remaining a 5-foot-8 blur off the line of scrimmage, utilizing his quickness in the open field to evade tacklers and his speedy, straight-line ability when he finds a pocket of open space. The first five yards came easy. Passes from the JUGS football machine in the backyard weren’t a problem. Covey’s hands never have been.
He has caught 100 to 150 passes every other day in his backyard since being home and when he needed help replicating punt-return scenarios, former BYU punter Jonny Linehan drove over and lofted about 50 to 60 punts into the air for Covey to anticipate and eventually haul in.
Building back speed, however, was his biggest adversary.
“Quickness is something you have, but speed is form and it’s practice and it’s learning how to stride, it’s loosening your hips up and learning how to run with your hips and run with good form,” he said. “When you don’t run for two years that much, your hips feel locked up and you’re just not used to that movement.”
And that miserable feeling you get when you’ve sprinted, feel nauseous and are concerned of what might follow? Yeah, that happened to Covey as he relentlessly worked his way back into sprint shape. Only twice, he said, joking that he blames it on becoming reacquainted with the altitude.
Now, he’s ready to roll. Sprints are a piece of cake. He’s enrolled at Utah and participating in the third portion of the offseason training schedule, which is summer conditioning. Covey’s working his way up to his optimal playing weight at 175 pounds. When he came home in March, he weighed 152 pounds, but is up to 167 at the moment. He’s also dived into the playbook many Utah fans drooled over imagining Covey’s electric ability in offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s unique scheme.
“I’m still getting it down right now,” he said.
In an interview on 700 AM recently, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he remains confident that Covey will be ready to contribute at the start of fall camp on Aug. 1 and contend for a starting spot.
“Without question,” Whittingham said. “He’s been training since he’s stepped off the airplane. He’s a guy that we don’t have any worries about him being ready to go.”
Covey’s studies have gone beyond the physical or digital copies of Utah’s offensive blueprint. He has already watched all of Utah’s 12 games in 2017 at least twice, studying the tendencies of last year’s wide receivers and watching how returning starting quarterback, junior Tyler Huntley, operates.
“You need the captain of your offense to be the example,” Covey said of Huntley. “All the guys love him.”
It’s a “high-risk, high-reward” offense, Covey says, but the risk drops significantly as trust goes up with the receiver and the quarterback. Like all Utah fans, Covey’s counting the days until he can suit up in pads, but he isn’t skipping any steps. The summer conditioning program is necessary for all players, but for guys who just a few months ago were walking the streets of another country, it’s a vital final step.
“I really am just enjoying every day,” Covey said, “and trying hard not to get complacent.”
As Whittingham has said, that is never a worry.
AT A GLANCE
Utah’s Britain Covey
Height » 5-foot-8
Weight » 167 pounds
Position » Wide receiver
Class » Sophomore
Hometown » Provo
High school » Timpview
Back in shape » After serving a two-year LDS Church mission to Chile, the former AP freshman All-American is back on campus and enrolled at Utah for summer conditioning prior to the start of fall camp on Aug. 1. Covey led the Utes in catches (43) and receiving yards (519) as a freshman in 2015, had five total touchdowns and was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention return specialist.