ARLINGTON, Texas — Of all the players BYU could have chosen to represent the school at the Big 12 football media days this week at AT&T Stadium, receiver Kody Epps would have seemed one of the most unlikely.

“We could have avoided that situation, but in all honesty, man, the maturation that I took from that experience is going to last me a lifetime.” — BYU receiver Kody Epps after entering transfer portal, then returning to BYU

That’s because the fourth-year sophomore pretty much signaled he no longer wanted to be a part of the team in late April, entering the transfer portal a couple weeks after spring camp ended. 

Of course, Epps decided to return to BYU a few days after that, changing his mind after hours and hours of discussions with coaches, friends, family members and mentors, he told the Deseret News last month and again on Wednesday.

“We could have avoided that situation, but in all honesty, man, the maturation that I took from that experience is going to last me a lifetime,” Epps said. “The wisdom that I learned from that experience, from the communication with the coaches, and the friendships that I had, and to have brothers and teammates that embraced me again after two days of hectic chaos, was a learning experience.

“But it is what it is and I am so eager to move forward with BYU,” Epps continued.

Turns out, having Epps show up in Arlington at BYU’s first Big 12 media event was a stroke of genius. The Los Angeles native was cheerful, articulate and continually expressed gratitude for being able to join defensive end Tyler Batty, quarterback Kedon Slovis, punter Ryan Rehkow and linebacker Ben Bywater at the meetings.

“It is a part of the job. We play football, but we also have media responsibilities that we have to take care of. It is really a blessing. I feel grateful to be able to be here with these guys, to be in this light. And to have fun while doing it,” Epps said.

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The product of Mater Dei High in California is not a member of the faith that sponsors BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he said representing the church well is important to him, and a role he takes seriously, especially after what happened some 10 weeks ago.

“To be able to take that head on and be able to be a leader out here is a blessing and something I am going to remember for the rest of my life,” he said.

Persuading Epps to return might turn out to be the best recruiting work of the offseason for head coach Kalani Sitake, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and receivers coach Fesi Sitake, among others.

“That is probably more for Kody to talk about (than me),” Kalani Sitake said on June 26. “But with every player, when they are talking about the portal, I think the key is to communicate and part of the communication is on the player, too.

“So as we talked about things and discussed what is important, I think (it was good),” Sitake continued. “The players have the portal now, so that’s just part of football. I am not worried about it. I want the guys who want to be here. … There are a lot of guys that we turned down that want to be here, so the focus has got to be on our team and our culture, but more than anything make sure that they fit and want to be here.”

Epps said he learned through the process that he “loves BYU” and really wants to be there.

“I know one thing: We have seen him develop and grow quite a bit and I am really proud of him,” Sitake said. “I am glad that he was able to look at it and make the right decision and come back home.”

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In June, Epps called it “a pretty rough process” that he went through emotionally, but he is better for it and will incorporate the lessons learned into the rest of his life.

“Which is being able to communicate before things get shaky,” he said. “I think that what I went through is going to be so influential and so instrumental to my life in moving forward.”

How was Epps received when he returned to BYU?

New quarterback Kedon Slovis, a two-time transfer, said there were never any ill feelings directed toward Epps.

“He called me, I was like, ‘Bro, I love you. You should stay. But you are my guy. That doesn’t change just because you are not playing with me anymore,’” Slovis said. “And he calls me a day later and says, ‘Hey, do you still love me? Because I am coming back.’

Batty said a lot of players were “shocked initially” when Epps entered the portal, because the receiver was the “ultimate team guy.” But guys weren’t surprised when Epps had a change of heart.

“BYU is a special place. We have got a special atmosphere. We have got a special team,” Batty said. “You only get four years to play college football. So I don’t blame anybody for testing the waters. You have four years, and then it is over.

“We are still super-stoked to have him,” Batty continued. “He’s a great athlete, and a great teammate.”

Said punter Rehkow: “We couldn’t be more happy to have Kody back, and everyone has welcomed him back with open arms. We are so excited for him to be here representing BYU at media days, and it really speaks to the person he is.”

Injured most of his first two seasons in Provo, Epps broke out in 2022 — until he got injured in the loss at Liberty and was forced to miss the final five games of the season. He finished with 39 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns.

“I am so ready to play some football right now. I am so ready. I have been rehabbing heavily, and now it is just about getting that strength back and things of that nature,” Epps said. “So I am so grateful to play some ball.”

For BYU, especially.