Two Utah wide receivers who have taken different journeys will be counted on to produce for the Utes this season.
And they’ll try to help fill the void left by wideouts Bryan Thompson and Samson Nacua, who left the program last winter.
Junior Jaylen Dixon entered the transfer portal in October 2020 but ended up withdrawing from the portal last February and returned to the Utes, something that had never been done before at the U.
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Devaughn Vele has emerged this spring as a potential weapon, highlighted by his performance in the spring game, when he caught four passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.
“I have very high expectations for him,” quarterback Charlie Brewer said of Vele. “I feel like he’s a complete receiver. He has size and he can jump out of a gym and really go up and high-point the ball. He’s a big-play receiver. I feel like he’s going to have a huge fall.”
Vele, a 6-foot-4, 205-pounder from San Diego, has played in nine games in his career, including one start. He’s recorded two receptions for 12 yards.
“Devaughn Vele has been our secret weapon for a minute now. It sucks seeing Bryan and Samson moving on but we support them at the end of the day. They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do. We’re brothers so we love each other for that,” said wide receiver Solomon Enis. “But Vele’s been ready, he’s been consistent, he’s been reliable. People can rely upon him a lot. I’m excited for this tandem, this duo, we have going … Vele’s ready to go and he’s capable.”
For Vele, it’s been about gaining the confidence to compete at this level and that’s something he’ll continue to work on between now and the start of fall camp.
“I need to have confidence in my play. I noticed last year from the COVID season was, the lights were a little too bright for me. I just have to understand that I have a place here at Utah football and I need to step up,” he said. “Especially with guys like Bryan and Samson leaving. It leaves a big gap in our team. But I understand that this team is ready and capable of doing anything we need to and I need to understand that I need to step up as well and continue to make plays — not just for one practice or one spring game, but I need to do it on a consistent basis.”
Vele said the games he was able to play in during the truncated season “were huge. It helped me understand the biggest things I need to work on. It made me work on my craft a lot more and gain a stronger work ethic to really commit myself to this team and this program and to do the best that I can with wherever they need me to be at.”
In 2021, Vele wants to be one of the receivers that can contribute to the passing game.
“The biggest thing I’ve been trying to learn is just doing my job and understanding the offense,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of playmakers on the offense and I just want to add a little mix to it, whatever I can, to find success. The spring was an opportunity for me and the other guys to find our place in what we believe can be a really good team in the fall.”
As for Dixon, a 5-9, 170-pound junior from Frisco, Texas, he has played in 28 games, including nine starts. He remained enrolled in school in 2020 though he didn’t play.
During his Utah career, Dixon has caught 56 passes for 932 yards and three touchdowns. He’s rushed 19 times for 108 yards an two TDs.
How did coach Kyle Whittingham handle taking back a player from the transfer portal — something he had never done before?
“First of all, I had to understand why and what the scenario was. He’s a heckuva football player. He adds a dimension to our receiving corps,” Whittingham said. “Nobody has too much speed and he gives us a lot of speed at that position. My first inclination was, OK, let’s listen to what he has to say and it all made sense. I was very excited after that, that he was coming back for the right reasons because he’s a heckuva football player and made a lot of plays for us over the course of the last few years.”
After talking to him, Whittingham was satisfied that Dixon was coming back for the right reasons.
“Typically when you go into the portal, you’re going elsewhere. We had a thoughtful conversation with him,” he said. “He gave me some good background and feedback about what was going on in his life. It was a no-brainer for me. We took it to the leadership council and they felt the same way. So he has been reinstated.”
Now, both Dixon and Vele are hoping to be key pieces to Utah’s offense moving forward.