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COVEY STILL SMILING, DESPITE GLITCHES IN HIS MASTER PLAN

SHARE COVEY STILL SMILING, DESPITE GLITCHES IN HIS MASTER PLAN

Sean Covey's got it all wrong. Doesn't he know that backup quarterbacks are supposed to be grumbling malcontents? Doesn't he know they're supposed to have bad attitudes, that they're supposed to complain about playing time, about life's injustices?

So what's this guy doing? He's smiling. He's cheering for teammates. He's preparing for the next game as if it were the Super Bowl - and he's going to play. He's saying only nice things - and meaning every word. Why do you know what he said last week about starting quarterback Ty Detmer? "Ty is playing very well. You can't argue with that."If Covey's not careful, someone will accuse him of good sportsmanship.

This just isn't, well, normal. It is a hard fact of life at the BYU School of Pro Quarterbacks that while the starting quarterback prepares for a life of fame and riches, the backups are relegated to anonymous servitude, to late-game mopup duty, to toting clipboards. It's enough to drive off the best of quarterbacks - and often has.

Eric Krzmarzick, once Jim McMahon's heir apparent, transferred to Florida when he lost The Job to Steve Young. He did not go quietly. Gym Kimball transferred to Utah State rather than serve as a backup. Similarly, Bob Jensen dropped out of school and went to Canada. Mike Young quit the team early. Ralph Martini found his way to San Jose. Kevin Smith went home. For every Royce Bybee and Blaine Fowler BYU has retained, there have been Jeff Duva, Dan Hartwig, Mike Jones and Steve Duddy waving bye-bye.

Covey didn't even change apartments.

Not that it has been easy. After all, he hasn't had much practice at sitting. This wasn't the way things were supposed to turn out.

Until this year, Covey's life was proceding precisely on course, as if he had mapped it out on paper in his youth, which he did. He would start for Provo High and win the school's first state championship. He would play for BYU's junior varsity team. He would go on an LDS Church mission. He would redshirt a year. He would marry. He would become BYU's starting quarterback as a sophomore. He would help BYU win a conference championship. He would graduate with at least a 3.7 GPA in the honors program and attend MBA school. He would teach and write a book.

This was the master plan. It was all there on paper. There was nothing in there about sitting on the bench, or about knee injuries, or concussions or looking over his shoulder at the kid, Detmer.

Right on schedule, like everything else he had planned up to this point, Covey became the starter half-way through his sophomore year. He led BYU to five victories in as many tries. Then the master plan began to go awry. Covey and the Cougars lost to Virginia in the All-America Bowl.

They lost their opener the following year to Wyoming, and Covey was knocked out of the game and his senses with a concussion in the second quarter. Knee injuries further complicated matters. So did Detmer, the rare young talent who repeatedly was replacing Covey. For the first time in his life, Covey's confidence was shaken.

As Head Coach LaVell Edwards would recall, "He put so much pressure on himself, it was like it handcuffed him. And I don't think anyone knew how injured he was."

The end came in the Freedom Bowl, when an ineffective Covey was benched in favor of Detmer, who rallied BYU to a win over Colorado. While Covey recovered from off-season knee surgery, Detmer tuned up in spring practice. The quarterback race was finished. Covey was bench bound.

"Early in the season I would come home upset," he says, "but I decided I could choose what I wanted to do - quit or develop a bad attitude and blame the system, or have a good attitude and focus on things I could control. I decided on the latter. Since I made that decision I've been at peace. I feel fine. I'm still a happy person."

And still ever prepared for the chance that he might play. The night before each game Covey reviews the entire game plan, running through his mind how he would respond to a blitz or the defensive read for each play. During games he stands on the sideline to get the called play, then plays out the options in his mind as he watches the defense unfold on the field.

Says Covey, "I'm probably the most experienced backup in the nation."

If not the best. Name another reserve who has thrown for 4,272 yards in 1 1/2 seasons, one who ranked ninth nationally in pass efficiency last year after 10 games.

Once the knighted Next Great BYU Quarterback, Covey has discovered in one year just how wide the gap is between No. 1 and No. 2. The media that once swarmed his locker now ignores him. He's free to walk to the showers, unhindered, past the throngs around Detmer. He has plenty of open speaking dates. His playing time is limited to hand-offs at the end of routs, because his coaches, worried about running up the score, send him almost nothing but running plays. So far this season Covey has thrown just 14 passes - and completed 9 of them for 109 yards and 1 touchdown (he has been known to audible out of running plays occasionally).

Covey response to this is typical: "I can understand how the coaches feel."

"I could probably count on one hand, maybe one finger, the guys who would do what he has done this year, the way he has kept himself prepared," says Edwards. "Especially in his position, being a senior and having had the job. He could have said I don't need this. No one has any idea what he means to the team. If something happened to Ty, we wouldn't have to limit (our game plan) with Sean in there."

Covey probably will finish his football career quietly, but then he's always had bigger plans than football. The College Football Association was so impressed with Covey as a model student-athlete that it produced a halftime feature film about him, never mind that he was no longer a starter.

With a 3.84 GPA in English - the highest on the team - Covey will seek an MBA next year, then pursue a career in teaching and eventually write that book. Except for his senior season of football, Covey's plan is still intact. He's staying the course.

"He's always had a clear idea of what he wants to do," says Edwards, a long-time neighbor of the Coveys. "He'll be a success no matter what he does."