Utah junior wide receiver Devaughn Vele joined the program as a walk-on in 2019.

Four years later, Vele is a proven, veteran playmaker. And he’s taking his role of mentoring younger players seriously.

“It’s been absolutely tremendous for our group, for our offense. He’s a guy that’s progressed in a manner that, being a walk-on who wasn’t given anything, to see his work and dedication pay off is absolutely amazing.” — Utah receivers coach Alvis Whitted on Devaughn Vele

“Age-wise, I’ve been the oldest guy in the room for a while,” said Vele, who served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Samoa before joining the Utes. “Personally, I’m just trying to help the younger guys understand what the culture here is and understand the playbook as well. I feel like I’m working to take the extra step in my game, being that guy that people can depend on down the stretch. When a big play is needed, being that guy.”

Now that Solomon Enis has moved on, Vele is assuming even more of a leadership role in the receivers room. 

“Solo was a lot more of a vocal leader than I was. I was more behind the scenes. I wasn’t at the forefront,” said Vele, who received a scholarship in 2020. “That’s something I’m adjusting this year, just making sure I can be a lot more vocal now that they look to me as that leader in the room.”

Vele spent his first season at Utah on the scout team, along with quarterback Cam Rising. That experience has paid dividends. 

“You get used to the culture. You know how to practice and what’s expected of you. It’s as simple as that,” Vele said. “No matter where you start, whether you get reps when you first get here or you’re on the scout team, as long as you buy into the culture that’s here at Utah, then the reps are going to speak for themselves.”

Last season, Vele caught 55 passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns. For his career, he’s recorded 80 receptions for 1,096 yards and six TDs. 

Vele was named Pac-12 All-Conference honorable mention last season.

Coach Kyle Whittingham loves having Vele in the program and on the field. “Devaughn Vele is the guy that’s our premier weapon on the outside,” he said.

At the same time, Whittingham has expressed concern during the spring about the depth at the wide receiver position. 

How does Vele react to that assessment? 

“To me, I view it as, keep working harder. There’s always going to be people doubting you, whether it’s the fans, the media or whoever it is. It’s just understanding that what we do in the room is how we work and we’re just going to keep working to be better,” he said. “People can have their own opinions about things but I see it as, we’re working just as hard as any other group, if not harder.

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“As long as we stick to our game, that’s all that matters to me — making sure that we make the plays we need to make when it comes to game day.”

First-year wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted appreciates that he’s inherited a polished version of Vele. 

“Consistency on a daily basis. He works, he’s competitive and he’s a leader by the way he goes about his business every day. I just want him to continue to work on winning in the moments that matter,” he said. “Those are the things that he wants to get better at. I think it also helps if we can continue to support him with a cast of guys that can take a lot of pressure off of him by being able to distribute the ball to many different people. I think that will be addressed moving forward.”

Vele tested the NFL draft waters last winter before opting to return to Utah. Why did he choose to come back?

“A lot of factors played into that decision,” Vele said. “It’s more personal choices that came into play and I just felt like this was the best thing for me.”

While Vele has name, image and likeness opportunities, there are other reasons why he’s continuing his college career. 

“I love NIL. It helps us out a lot. But I’m not playing for the money. I want to play for the sport,” he said. “I love the game of football. Obviously, it played a factor but it wasn’t the main thing at the forefront of my mind. It was a lot of personal issues and family choices that I came up with and I felt like this was the best choice for me.”

Whitted is thrilled that Vele decided to return. 

“It’s been absolutely tremendous for our group, for our offense,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s progressed in a manner that, being a walk-on who wasn’t given anything, to see his work and dedication pay off is absolutely amazing. I’m appreciative of that, that he thought enough of his team to come back. And I think it will help him as well.”

Utah receiver Devaughn Vele battles for yards during Rose Bowl game against Penn State in Pasadena, California.
Utah receiver Devaughn Vele battles for yards during Rose Bowl game against Penn State in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. Vele considered testing the NFL draft waters but ultimately chose to return to Utah for one more season. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News