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Theo Howard eager for reunion with former UCLA teammates, coaches

On Saturday, Utah wide receiver Theo Howard faces his former school, and his former coach and teammates, when the Utes host UCLA. 

Utah Utes receiver Theo Howard (1) makes a catch during a game against Arizona State in Salt Lake City on Oct. 16, 2021.
Utah Utes receiver Theo Howard (1) makes a catch during a Pac-12 game against Arizona State in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Before the season began, Utah’s Britain Covey took his fellow wide receiver, Theo Howard, who had just joined the program after stints at UCLA and Oklahoma, on a camping trip.

Howard had never been camping before in his life.

“He had no idea what it was going to be like,” Covey said.

During the trip, the pair went fishing on the Green River. But it didn’t exactly go well.

“Terrible,” said Covey. “He couldn’t handle it. It was hilarious.”

According to Covey, Howard didn’t enjoy “sleeping on a teeny pad” and the fishing wasn’t much better.

“He has no patience. I fished for three straight hours and didn’t get a bite,” he said. “He was just sitting in the boat, being that little devil, just saying, ‘You’re not going to catch anything, Cov. You’ve got to stop now. What are you doing?’ He fished for about five minutes and he was done.”

It was kind of Howard’s unofficial initiation to living in Utah.

“I’m a huge fan of Utah and the outdoors,” Covey said. “I love to take guys out to do stuff like that.”

Fortunately for Howard, his one season with the Utes has been more successful than that camping trip. He’s caught a lot more passes than he did fish.

In six games, the 6-foot, 190-pound senior from Westlake Village, California, has caught eight passes for 127 yards and one touchdown. Howard recorded a season-high three receptions for 41 yards in Utah’s upset of then-No. 18 Arizona State. He hauled in a season-long 42-yard pass in the win at USC.

“Theo’s done a nice job for us. He hasn’t caught as many balls as maybe we projected — at least not yet,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “Theo’s a guy that works hard. He’s a great teammate and always has a great attitude. We really enjoy having him on our team.”

On Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN), Howard faces his former school, and his former coach and teammates, when the Utes host UCLA.

Howard said he was “a little dinged up” in last Saturday’s loss at Oregon State but he insisted that won’t keep him out of this week’s game against the Bruins.

“It means a lot,” Howard said about playing UCLA. “Obviously, I have a lot of friends that are still there. So it will be fun playing them. I always enjoy these type of games.”

Before the game, will he spend some time on the field greeting his former teammates and coaches? Or will it be all business?

“It’s a little bit of both. I’m a nice guy so I’m definitely going to say hi to some players and coaches over there,” Howard said. “But it’s still about business. You’ve got a game to win. We have a goal of winning the Pac-12 championship ahead.”

At UCLA from 2016-19, Howard caught 119 passes for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns in 34 games. He transferred to Oklahoma, then tore his Achilles tendon in January 2020. After rehabbing from the injury, Howard managed to catch 13 passes for 163 yards for the Sooners.

UCLA’s Theo Howard runs with the ball ahead of Arizona State defensive back Kobe Williams during game Nov. 10, 2018.
UCLA wide receiver Theo Howard runs with the ball ahead of Arizona State defensive back Kobe Williams during game, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Howard, now a Utah Ute, is eager to face his former team Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
Ralph Freso, Associated Press

Howard remembers fondly his time at UCLA.

“Just playing in the Rose Bowl on Saturdays. It’s definitely a historic stadium,” he said. “There’s lots of great memories of playing USC. Different plays and different teammates I had there. Lots of memories there.”

What was it like playing for Bruins coach Chip Kelly?

“I enjoyed it. I wasn’t with him for too long. But I like Chip. Me and him definitely had a good relationship,” Howard said. “Everybody knows he has a different personality. Chip is a good coach and he’s doing good things over there with them right now.”

During the offseason, Howard decided to make Utah his final collegiate stop. How does he assess this season, particularly playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium?

“It’s been good. It’s picked up. The last game against Arizona State, it was a great atmosphere, especially with it being a night game,” Howard said. “The fans are a joy. They like to interact and I like interacting with them. I’ve really enjoyed my experience so far.”

Tight end Brant Kuithe appreciates the contributions Howard has made to the offense.

“He brings a lot. He’s fast, he runs great routes. He can catch the ball,” he said. “He’s a great addition to the team and he’s one of the many weapons we have. It’s great to have him here.”

“Theo is very experienced. His routes are, you know, it’s kind of like one of those veterans who there’s nothing he hasn’t seen,” Covey said. “So you match him up against any corner and he won’t win every time but he can beat anybody on any given route. I think that I almost wish he had another year because I feel like we’d find a way to utilize him even more. But he has all the capabilities. He’s just a fun guy. I love Theo.”

Expect Howard and Covey to continue to make plays on the field for Utah. Just don’t expect them to go camping together anytime soon.