On the first day of spring practices, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham drew the comparison.

The coach said that true freshman wide receiver Mikey Matthews reminded him of former Ute star Britain Covey, now with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“He has a lot of similarities to Britain but he also has some things in himself that he can bring to the table and just add that pizzazz to football.” — Utah receiver Devaughn Vele on freshman receiver Mikey Matthews

“He’s not anywhere near that level yet, but that’s the type of player he is and can play in the slot,” Whittingham said. 

During the spring, Matthews, a 6-foot, 175-pound four-star recruit from Mission Viejo, California, showed glimpses of what he can provide the Utah offense. 

What does wide receiver Devaughn Vele, who also played with Covey, think about the comparison between Matthews and Covey? 

“I think (Covey) has the skill sets of Mikey. I would say that. Everybody has their own playing style,” Vele said. “They can be similar in some ways, but everybody brings their own kind of flavor and their own style to football. I feel like that’s what Mikey brings. He has a lot of similarities to Britain but he also has some things in himself that he can bring to the table and just add that pizzazz to football.”

First-year receivers coach Alvis Whitted said Matthews can be a Covey-like weapon. 

“He’s got all the potential in the world to be that. I really believe that. He’s got to continue to grow and understand the nature of the position. And then more reps,” he said. “You can’t get enough. The more experience he gets, the game will slow down for him. He can use his God-given abilities and creativity and his ability to separate and understand space. Those are his assets. He catches the ball well. He has a tremendous upside.”

‘The game’s not too big for him’

Not only can Matthews catch passes and make plays, but he also loves to return punts — like Covey. 

What does Matthews think of the comparisons? 

“High expectations. Covey was a heckuva player here, a legend here. He’s in the NFL now,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot of high expectations here in this program. I’m trying to stay consistent and be the best I can every day and not get too ahead of myself. Or get too down on myself when I make a mistake. I’m trying to trust God and stay on this path.”

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Of course, Matthews, who enrolled early at Utah to get a jump on his collegiate career, knows he has a lot to learn and he needs experience. 

“He’s a kid that, quite frankly, should still be in high school right now,” Whitted said. “His grasp of the playbook and his knowledge and the savvy he has, that’s pretty cool for a high school kid to be able to be in those situations and be able to function and that the game’s not too big for him.

“For that, I’m excited for his growth. I think that he can present himself as a good slot receiver and punt returner. He’s got to keep growing and detail the little things and the nuances of the position.”

A three-time South Coast League MVP in Mission Viejo, Matthews finished his high school career with 177 receptions for 2,402 yards and 28 touchdowns in 33 games.

‘Like Mike’

Vele has become Matthews’ unofficial hype man. When describing Matthews, he referenced the name of NBA Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan. 

“Superstar. That’s my word for him. Superstar. He inspires me,” Vele said. “I want to be just like Mikey when I get older. I’m already old. ‘Like Mike.’ I bet he doesn’t even know that movie. He’s probably too young for that. He’s been showing a lot of promise. Shoot, he’s getting reps with the ones and he’s taking advantage of his reps.

“I have a lot of respect for him. He came in here asking a lot of questions. He already has a great understanding of football. Since I am his ‘older brother’ in the program, I’m really proud to see him making the strides that he’s making and being one of those reliable players.”

For Matthews, the feeling is mutual. “Vele’s my inspiration,” he said. 

During the spring, Matthews performed well. 

“I feel like I’ve been able to show the coaches a bunch of my skill sets, being able to isolate defenders,” he said. “I’ve showcased my speed, too, on deep routes. It’s been really nice to be able to show those things.”

Whitted and Davante Adams

Not only is Matthews new to the program, but so too is his position coach. 

“Coach Whitted is the man. He loves football. He’s very sincere and genuine. I love learning from him,” Matthews said. “He’s very knowledgeable so I try to pick his brain and get all the information I can from him to be the best receiver that I can be.”

Prior to arriving at Utah, Whitted coached for three seasons at Wisconsin. Before that, he was the wide receivers coach for the Green Bay Packers in 2019. With the Packers, Whitted played a role in developing Pro Bowl selection Davante Adams. 

Matthews said he’s learned a lot already from Whitted. 

“Trying to be able to isolate defenders. Just watching Davante Adams because he coached Devontae Adams when he was with the Packers,” he said. “He’s telling us what Adams is really good at and we’re watching him on film — being able to release on defenders, being really quick with his hands, feet and eyes to get open.”

‘Nice culture shock’

So far, Matthews has enjoyed his time at Utah — snowy weather notwithstanding.  

“It’s a nice culture shock. When I first got here, it was the first time I’d seen snow. It was definitely a culture shock for me. But it’s nice being out here, to see the weather and play in it. I’m surrounded by great guys,” he said. “I’ve got Vele to look up to. It’s nice to be able to ask questions and be able to make mistakes and not get yelled at too crazy. But I’ve been able to learn from my mistakes and this offense is nice.”

And he’s looking forward to the 2023 campaign. 

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“I’m really excited. It’s going to be a really fun season,” Matthews said. “Hopefully, I get a little bit of playing time. It will be fun to be on the field in that stadium, packed out. It will be really fun.”

Matthews is feeling right at home with the Utes. 

“The coaching staff is really consistent and genuine. A lot of coaching staffs change and move around. I knew if I came to Utah, I was going to be here,” he said. “I’m not looking to transfer or anything. I’m looking forward to being here for three or four years and going on to (the NFL).”

You know, kind of like a guy named Covey. 

Utah wide receiver Britain Covey (18) is congratulated after scoring against Ohio State in the 108th Rose Bowl.
Utah receiver Britain Covey is congratulated after scoring against Ohio State in the 108th Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. Could Utah freshman Mikey Matthews take a page from Covey’s playbook? | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
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