From somber to swagger: How Utes’ leaders are helping teammates regain their mojo
Defeat to rival Cougars was tough to swallow, but players know you can’t grieve losses too long
As a Provo native and someone who cheered for BYU as a kid, Utah wide receiver Britain Covey took last Saturday’s 26-17 setback to the Cougars hard.
So when he showed up at the football facility Monday morning, and saw a couple of young teammates joking around before a weightlifting session, it didn’t sit well with him.
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“If I come in and I see two players joking around, I freak out at them,” Covey said Monday afternoon. “I got mad at a couple of younger guys because they were joking around before the lift. Just as a thing of respect to the competitors in the room that it still hurts.”
Covey described the mood around practice Monday as “very somber.” But he knows that as a team captain, one of his most important roles is to help teammates get ready for the next game Saturday (5 p.m. MDT, CBSSN) against San Diego State and help restore confidence.
“I think that having that (somber) demeanor when you come in after a loss is a good thing for a day. You don’t want that to carry over, especially a loss that doesn’t affect our standing in the conference. It does sting,” he said. “I think it’s respectful. Everybody grieves differently. I think that’s true. But you have to be respectful to the guys that take this loss very seriously.
“Some guys grieve by being happy and joking around. But most of the guys are so competitive that that’s not them. The mood in the facility (Monday) is very soft-spoken, humble, somber, which is a good thing. But we’d better come out (Tuesday) and be happy and have swagger and move forward. We’ve got to get past it.”
During fall camp, coach Kyle Whittingham compared the leadership on this team to the leadership on the 2019 squad that won the Pac-12 South title.
Leadership is especially important at a time like this.
“It absolutely is key this week. Leaders need to step up. More leadership is really needed and when it comes to the forefront is when you have adversity, in challenging times,” Whittingham said Monday. “You don’t need leadership when everything is going great. We absolutely need leaders to step up this week. My guess is that they’ll respond.”
Covey embraces his role as a leader and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the Utes move on.
“I believe that it’s so easy to be a leader when things are going great. I don’t even know if that is leadership because everyone’s kind of leading themselves at that point. When things are going hard, leadership is really important,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of the leaders about this. The most important thing that we can do is, in my opinion, take ownership of what you control. It’s so easy to put blame on other things.
“I’m sure players want to put blame on coaches and coaches want to put the blame on players,” he continued. “If you go on social media, you’ll see people calling for coach Whitt’s job and things like that. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in whose fault it is. It’s all about taking ownership.
“That brings a sense of freedom to you. For me right now, it’s talking to the position group leaders and saying, ‘You need to talk to your position group to take ownership.’ I’m not going to have the biggest effect on the linebacker group but Devin Lloyd will.
“… It’s really somber (Monday) in the facility. We got humbled, which I think is good. But you don’t want that to last more than a day, in my opinion. You’ve got to get your swagger back. You’ve got to be happy. You’ve got to come to work excited. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Lloyd, another team captain, said he’s taking a similar approach.
“Just getting everyone focused on SDSU. They’re a great opponent. We have to learn from our mistakes from last week, move on and play a very good opponent,” he said. “It’s the same as every week. In life, you’re going to lose sometimes. It’s about how you recover, how you bounce back. That’s what I’ve been emphasizing to the team. That’s what everybody’s been focused on — bouncing back and learning from what we messed up on and making sure that never happens again.”
Linebackers coach Colton Swan appreciates Lloyd’s leadership skills.
“He’s always been a leader. He’s a natural leader. He demands a lot from himself and from his peers,” he said. “He tries to bring others along. That’s what we need on the defensive side.”
After Tuesday’s practice, Whittingham said, “Morale is good. It was a very good Tuesday. Good start to the week.”
A difficult loss can gut a team but Covey wants to help his team regain the swagger it had before that defeat.
“It’s easily lost and it’s difficult to get back. That’s why you need multiple people to do it. You need your leaders to do it. You need Devin Lloyd to come out with that swagger,” Covey said. “You need to have a bounce-back game, where you bring that swagger back. You see it every week in college football. If we have a great game this weekend, next week, it comes back.”
Covey pointed out the situation at Stanford. The Cardinal got crushed in their opener at Kansas State but rebounded last week with a 42-28 victory over then-No. 14 USC.
“You’ve got to roll with the punches — never too high, never too low. And know where your value lies and know that this team is good and bring that swagger.” — Utah receiver Britain Covey
“I’m sure all their fans were calling for coach (David) Shaw to be fired (after the Kansas State loss),” Covey said. “That’s just the reality of sports these days. My best friend Gabe (Reid) plays for Stanford. Everyone there is like, ‘This is our year!’ That’s how it is. You’ve got to roll with the punches — never too high, never too low. And know where your value lies and know that this team is good and bring that swagger.”
Senior quarterback Charlie Brewer said this week is about fixing mistakes.
“Obviously, we’re really disappointed about the loss. But I thought we came out today and corrected the things we needed to correct. We’re on to the next week now.”
“We’ve just got to practice harder. I wouldn’t say we took it light last week,” said running back Micah Bernard. “We worked our (butt) off last week. ... We worked hard but we’ve got to work even harder this week coming off a (loss).”
Yes, it was somber during Monday’s practice. But Covey vowed to eliminate that feeling quickly.
“You don’t want that to carry over, especially early in the season. You can’t overreact. I’m going to come in (Tuesday) and be goofy Brit. I’m going to be excited and get in a fight during practice,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. We had swagger. You lose it for a weekend, but you bring it back. That’s up to you. You don’t rely on someone else to bring it back.”