Utah receiver Britain Covey walked through the Eccles Football Center, humming a song from “Les Miserables.”
“Stuck in my head,” he said, with both a smile and a grimace.
Some things are uncontrollable, even for a person with Covey’s level of discipline. Approaching eight months after injuring his right knee on a kickoff return vs. Washington in the Pac-12 championship game, he’s discovering that not every assignment is easily finished according to his own calendar.
Nine months might be a standard period for an athlete’s return to action after ACL surgery (projecting a mid-September appearance, in this case), but this is Britain Covey, right? Give him a school project and a deadline, and it will get done. Challenge him to thrive in Power Five football at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, and he’ll figure it out, even if that means playing half of last season with a fractured wrist.
Expect him to be ready for Utah’s Aug. 29 season opener at BYU, in the stadium where he attended dozens of games as a kid, and … Turns out, not everything is so easily accomplished.
Multiple dates are in play for Covey’s latest re-entry to college football, he said, from the rivalry game in Provo to an Oct. 12 road contest at Oregon State that follows the Utes’ bye week, with the team’s Pac-12 opener Sept. 20 at USC as a checkpoint in between.
If you assumed he could power through the recovery like everything else he does and take the field in Provo, well, so did Covey.
“I thought it was just something you could ‘will’ through,” he said. “I knew it was going to be difficult, but I just thought, ‘I do everything at a high level, so I know I’m going to get back quicker.’ But you’re not the one that decides that.”
Covey continued, “I think that’s often a misconception in sports, honestly. You’ll get someone who’s just a beast or an amazing player, and they’re expected to come back fast. And they do want to, because that’s their personality type, but it’s not something you can control — as much as you want to say it is.”
Having his knee at full strength is vital for a player whose quickness and cutting ability evoked the nickname of “Video Game Covey.”
At this point, let’s throw in the mandatory “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” reference that goes in any Covey story: Business expert and author Stephen R. Covey, Britain’s late grandfather, designed the “circle of influence” to illustrate what elements of life a person can control.
Covey is doing his part, through the long months of rehab, but “there's a part I can't control,” he said, “and that's how my body responds to it. It's not like I can just tell my body to heal.”
That’s a myth-buster, considering that’s seemingly what Covey did last summer, having returned from a two-year mission to Chile for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After getting home too late for spring practice, he efficiently prepared for his sophomore season and looked sharp and quick from the start. Covey’s team-leading 60 catches nearly doubled the total for Utah’s No. 2 receiver (Jaylen Dixon), although his production dropped off after mid-October, when he broke a bone in his wrist.
Then came the ACL and meniscus injuries, after he was tackled while returning the second-half kickoff against Washington. Covey jogged off the field. But while watching the telecast, his older brother sensed a significant injury. Stephen Covey immediately did the natural, Covey thing: He researched famous athletes who have recovered from major knee surgery.
Those examples, including NFL running backs such as Adrian Peterson and Gale Sayers, have helped his brother. But the process has not been easy.
“He’s always been able to bounce back from stuff; this one definitely comes as a punch to the gut for him,” said Stephen Covey, who lives in North Carolina. “He’s definitely had moments in the recovery where he has doubted himself, like everyone does.”
Covey has received encouragement from Ute defensive end Blake Kuithe, whose two knee injuries ended his senior season of high school football in Texas and forced him to redshirt last season after he was hurt in preseason camp. “I talk to him a lot for comfort,” Covey said, “because he’s had it worse than any of us have.”
Kuithe's nearly non-stop rehabilitation for 21 months provides some perspective for Covey's recovery, even if Covey would welcome just one summer of standard preparation for football.
Covey would love to play at LaVell Edwards Stadium, where he regularly attended games since second grade. It would be a good story if he made a big comeback in a venue that “holds a lot of nostalgia for me,” he said. “It definitely plays a factor into me wanting to get back for that first game.”
Camp starts July 31; Covey is not sure how his day-to-day activity will be scripted, in an effort to get ready for the season as his knee progresses.
Covey is a junior, so the Utes’ Aug. 29 opener presumably would be his only opportunity to play college football in his hometown. Yet he sounds willing to accept whatever starting date of the season is assigned to him. What really matters to Covey is getting back to another Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium in northern California, and enjoying a much different outcome than last December.
Britain Covey has 103 receptions in two seasons. Utah’s all-time top 10:
192 – Kevin Dyson (1994-97).
177 – Bryan Rowley (1989-93).
156 – Dennis Smith (1986-89), Paris Warren (2003-04).
152 – Jereme Brooks (2007-10).
149 – Carl Harry (1986-88).
140 – Loren Richey (1985-86).
135 – Travis LaTendresse (2002-05), Derrek Richards (2004-07).
134 – Dres Anderson (2011-14).