When senior Theo Howard decided to enter the transfer portal after spending an injury-impacted 2020 season at Oklahoma, he was looking for a new home — a place needing wide receivers.

Utah, which needed wide receivers, was one of the schools that reached out. But having spent 2016-19 at UCLA, Howard said he knew of the Utes’ offensive reputation.

“I was definitely familiar with them, but I knew them more for running the ball than passing the ball,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound native of Westlake Village, California. 

The recruiting pitch from Utah’s coaches let him know that he’d be a vital part of the Ute offense in 2021. 

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“The coaching staff reached out and told me that they liked me,” Howard said. “They had a certain type of plan in terms of wanting to spread the ball out more this year. That’s how I ended up here.”

During fall camp, coach Kyle Whittingham has said that the offensive plan, indeed, is to focus more on the passing game this season. 

“We think that we need to do a better job throwing the ball this year. That’s one of our objectives,” he said. “We’re not going to drop back and throw it 60 times, but we need to be more productive and be more efficient in the throw game.”

Because of his experience and playmaking abilities, Howard is an integral part of that plan. He was one of the players that Whittingham said stood out in last Saturday’s scrimmage. 

At UCLA, Howard caught 119 passes for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns. He transferred to Oklahoma, then tore his Achilles tendon in January 2020.  

After rehabbing from the injury, Howard managed to haul in 13 passes for 163 yards for the Sooners.

“I got back just before the season but I was still dealing with that (injury),” Howard said. “Now, I finally feel like I’m healthy and I’m back to where I was before.”

“I have a lot of knowledge. I was at UCLA and Oklahoma. I’ve played in both the Pac-12 and the Big 12. I’ve been in a lot of different situations and I’ve played with a lot of different players. I have a lot of experience and knowledge when it comes to football that I can pass on to the younger guys.” — Theo Howard

During fall camp, Howard is capitalizing on his experience and helping some of his less experienced teammates. 

“I have a lot of knowledge. I was at UCLA and Oklahoma. I’ve played in both the Pac-12 and the Big 12,” he said. “I’ve been in a lot of different situations and I’ve played with a lot of different players. I have a lot of experience and knowledge when it comes to football that I can pass on to the younger guys.”

The Utes’ wide receiver room also features Britain Covey and Solomon Enis as well as Jaylen Dixon, Munir McClain and Devaughn Vele

Others in the wide receiver room include Makai Cope, Maxwell Cotton, Connor O’Toole, Money Parks, Bryson Reeves, Ben Renfro, Kyrese Rowan, Dawson Tanner, Dominique Thompson and Tyrone Young-Smith. 

“We have a mixture of older, veteran talent and young guys,” Howard said. “We have Brit, who’s been here and has a lot of experience and Solo and Vele, who’s played a couple of years; and me, obviously. ... We bring a lot of different things to the table. We have guys that have really good hands in the room and we have speed and shiftiness. We’re really good.”

Oklahoma receiver Theo Howard warms up before a game against TCU, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Fort Worth, Texas. Now a Ute, Howard is looking to make a name for himself in Salt Lake City. | Brandon Wade, Associated Press

Since arriving at Utah, Howard has bonded with his new teammates. Over the summer, he went camping and fishing on the Green River with Covey, who enjoys having Howard in the receivers room. 

“Theo’s great. Really smooth. He has a lot of experience, too, coming off an injury. What’s great about someone like that is, they know what works,” Covey said. “There’s a lot of idealistic approaches to receivers in football right now. But you get in a game and it all kind of goes out the window because everything is going so fast.

“When you have guys with experience, they know what works. I think Theo’s definitely going to contribute this year and compete for a starting job.”

After last Saturday’s scrimmage, Covey praised Howard’s work. 

“Theo had a great day today but he’s been doing well all camp. Once again, people forget how good Theo was on the field at UCLA,” he said. “He was an unbelievable player. He had some bad luck with injuries at Oklahoma but Theo’s another guy with veteran skills. He goes out there and he has confidence.

“There’s not many situations that he hasn’t seen. He’s got some quick twitch to him. If we can get five or six guys in the wide receivers room where there’s no drop-off at all, and you can rotate those guys in and out, it’s an unbelievable weapon to have. … Theo has definitely stepped up.”

Utah receiver Theo Howard looks on during a practice during fall camp at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. | University of Utah Athletics

Howard has been impressed with the leadership on this Utah team. 

“I wasn’t here last year,” he said, “but I think we have a lot of veteran leadership returning on the offense and that’s really important for us if we want to reach our goals and eventually win a Pac-12 championship.”

After a couple of previous stops, and after recovering from a major injury, Howard is ready to make a big impact — in an offensive attack that could put the ball in the air a lot this fall. 

“I hope so,” he said. “That’s the plan.”