Utah’s most celebrated backup receiver stood in the sunshine, sweating after his first official practice in two-plus years and patting his stomach.
“I have some Chilean bread, still in there,” Britain Covey joked Wednesday, “but other than that, I’m feeling pretty good. I feel like I haven’t lost a step.”
Covey’s return from a church mission to Chile is just in time for an offensive that needs his dynamic, playmaking ability. Covey won’t approach the 117 receptions that Cooper Kupp made in Troy Taylor’s Eastern Washington offense in 2016, but he’s sure to be productive as a Ute in Taylor’s scheme.
And he'll enjoy every bit of it.
“Sometimes it’s easy to get complacent in college football,” Covey said, “but then you take a step back and realize this is the greatest time in your life.”
Covey is listed No. 2 at the “E” receiver position behind Demari Simpkins, and that’s where he’ll remain for most of this month. The coaching staff won’t publicly update the depth chart until the week of the Aug. 30 season opener against Weber State.
That status hardly will lower the fan base’s hopes of what Covey will bring to the Utes. Covey caught 43 passes as a freshman in 2015, in a largely inefficient passing scheme. The latest version of the Utah offense should function better in the second season with Taylor and quarterback Tyler Huntley. The 5-foot-8 Covey knows he’ll have to become more than a novelty in the second phase of his college career.
“I kind of want people to underestimate me again,” he said. “That was fun. I feel a little bit of pressure, but I kind of just bury it. There are more expectations for our team than there are for me.”
That's partly true, although he's among the reasons the Utes are picked to contend for the Pac-12 South title. Covey's appearance as a returned missionary might be the most anticipated homecoming for a college athlete in this state since Devin Durrant resumed the second half of his BYU basketball career 35 years ago.
And there may never be a story like this again in Utah. Covey is a nontraditional missionary in this era, having played one season of football before leaving. Most athletes now depart in the summer after high school.
Covey returned in March, missing spring practice but giving himself a full summer in the Utes' conditioning program.
“He lacks a little endurance right now ... but he is what we hoped he would be,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Covey says he’s slightly faster than before and nobody questions his ability to learn the offense and emerge as a team leader.
“Already, you see the leadership qualities,” Taylor said. “He's not jumping in, trying to take control, but he's doing it the right way. He's incredibly intelligent, he's a humble kid. … He's as advertised, or better.”
As an illustration of how glimpses of practice can produce the wrong impression, either way; Covey dropped a pass on the first play of the media-viewing portion of Wednesday’s session. That’s unlikely to happen often, while Covey plays a major role for the Utes as a receiver and kick returner.
He should thrive in Taylor’s offense, designed for receivers to read the coverage and find holes. Sounds like Covey’s game, right?
“He puts a lot of trust in the receivers,” Covey said. “I love it, because if you can master that with the quarterbacks, it’s almost unguardable.”