That means the Rose Bowl will be the final time that he’ll play in a game for the No. 11 Utes as they face No. 6 Ohio State in Pasadena, California.
What a place to bid farewell to college football.
“The Granddaddy of Them All, right?” he said. “I am thrilled.”
And what a career the 24-year-old Covey has had.
“What he’s brought to the program is invaluable, both on and off the field. He’s a great leader and has everybody’s respect in the building — coaches, players, everybody,” coach Kyle Whittingham said last month. “His personality is infectious and his positive outlook and just the way he comes in every day is uplifting.
“Players feed off that. In practice, nobody works harder. In games, he’s electric, he’s exciting to watch. He’s meant so much to us. We’re going to hate to see him go. I guess there’s a chance he may come back but not much.”
Covey is Utah’s all-time leader in career punt return yards (1,092), leads the Pac-12 and is No. 3 in the FBS with 14.7 yards per punt return. His 427 total punt return yards this season leads the FBS with his two punt return touchdowns also tying for the lead nationally.
The Provo native had a career-high 132 punt return yards against San Diego State, the most by a player in the FBS this season. His 80-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Aztecs was the fourth-longest in program history and ranks as the second-longest in the Pac-12 this year.
Going to the NFL has long been a dream for him, even though standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 170 pounds, not many could have predicted that he’d have an opportunity.
“Objectively, it was the right decision (to declare for the draft). I’m perfectly content with how things have gone. More than anything, I want to keep playing football,” he said. “That’s the reason why I considered staying because everybody knows how unpredictable the NFL is.
“Even some of the best players we’ve ever seen don’t pan out or they get injured … it’s hard to take that risk. But it’s pretty obvious that it’s the better choice. But what a way to go out, though.”
Since making his plans public, “I’ve been an emotional wreck. It’s bittersweet. I’m really excited to go out,” he said. “This NFL thing, as much as it’s a dream growing up, you always have your mom saying, ‘That’s awesome but you know that’s not realistic.’ The fact that it’s a reality for me is cool. I’m finally starting to process it.
“I might actually get to play in the NFL, or get a shot. That’s all I can ask for. What I love is, I have no regrets in college. I feel like so many high schoolers come to college obsessing over the NFL. They don’t play their first year of college and they start freaking out. ‘What am I going to do? I’m not going to get a shot at the NFL.’ I’m like, ‘Enjoy college first.’ I feel like I’ve done that. I love this program.”
Covey often jokes at his own expense about his age and he’s good-natured about others who do so, too.
“Many people reading this are probably thinking, ‘Wait, you’re telling me this guy has another year of eligibility?’ The answer is yes. While it sounds fun to drag out my college career until I collect social security, I’m ready for my next chapter,” Covey wrote in a Twitter post. “I feel perfectly content with my college career, capping it off with a Pac-12 Championship. In pursuit of another childhood dream, I’ll be preparing for the 2022 NFL draft in hopes that someone takes a chance on me. I’m ecstatic to be able to put on that Utah uniform one more time down in Pasadena! Let’s make it special.”
Covey made his final season special in helping lead the Utes to a Pac-12 title and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
One of his highlights this season was a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oregon on Nov. 20 at the end of the first half.
“Probably the biggest play of the game was Covey’s punt return,” Whittingham said after the game. “That really was a huge momentum-builder going into halftime. If you had to pinpoint one play in the entire game as the key, it was that one. ... Covey’s a dangerous guy. I’d think twice about kicking to him.”
Covey was thrilled for the opportunity to make a play.
“I’m glad that coach trusted me enough to call timeout with 11 seconds left. We went for a block so we didn’t have a return set up,” he said. “But I knew if I could get outside the first wave, we’d have a lot of guys coming back. They were coming toward me so I had to point to them and say, ‘Go!’ They had some great blocks. ... I don’t score if it’s not for them.”
The crowd reaction during, and after, his memorable punt return was the loudest that Covey’s heard since he’s been at Utah.
“During a play, your ears turn off. It’s like you don’t hear anything. Then when I was at about the 10-yard line, my ears turned back on and could not believe how loud it was,” he said. “I was thinking this week about the loudest times I’ve heard Rice-Eccles and that was No. 1, for sure. … That return was a cool scene.”
During his career, Covey has enjoyed a bunch of unforgettable performances against Oregon, including as a freshman, when the Utes thrashed the Ducks 62-20 in Eugene. He still remembers the final score.
“I could quote that game play by play for you,” he said.
But when asked this week to name a play that was one of the most memorable and meaningful for him, Covey pointed to a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oregon State last season, after suffering a knee injury near the end of the 2018 season and being sidelined for most of the 2019 campaign due to injuries. That touchdown return helped him feel like he could return to the player he was before the injuries.
“I was wondering if I’d ever be back,” he said. “That was the confidence booster that, ‘You can still do this.’ That was one not many people probably think about. But for me, that was probably the most impactful play of my last two years.”
Covey has spent some time contemplating what his career might have been like without those injuries but he’s come to terms with how his career played out.
“If it weren’t for those injuries, I never would have prepared the way I do now. I spent this last offseason on injury prevention,” he said. “I wish I would have done that three years ago.”
A few weeks ago, Whittingham was asked about Covey’s performance this season.
“This has been his best year,” Whittingham said. “Knock on wood, he’s been able to stay healthy all season long. He’s really put up some good numbers.”
Covey has said he is interested in going into coaching someday. Whittingham said he has a future in that capacity.
“If he decides to go that route, he’ll be outstanding,” the coach said. “We will take him back in a second as a graduate assistant if that’s what he chooses to do.”
Before then, Covey has one more chance to play one final game for the Utes — on one of the biggest stages in college football.