During interviews with reporters Monday morning, Utah wide receiver/return specialist Britain Covey joked that he’ll be the starting quarterback this season.

While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hasn’t publicly named the starting QB — the competition featured Jake Bentley, Drew Lisk and Cam Rising — there’s no doubt that Covey will take on multiple roles for the Utes in 2020 on offense, special teams and in the program in general. 

Utah opens the season at home Saturday (2 p.m., ESPNU) against Arizona. 

It’s been quite a road to recovery for Covey, who suffered a knee injury in the 2018 Pac-12 championship game against Washington. After rehabbing, he returned last season but shut things down after four games and decided to take a redshirt year because the knee was still bothering him. 

Covey hasn’t played in a game since Utah’s setback at USC on Sept. 20, 2019. 

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But now the 5-foot-8, 172-pound junior is back. Again. And, naturally, Whittingham is happy about that.  

“It’s huge for our offense, it’s huge for our special teams,” Whittingham said. “He’s one of the best returners in the nation, at least he was his freshman year. We expect him to be very dangerous as a punt returner and kickoff returner. He’s completely healthy as far as the knee injury. And we need his quickness and speed because he was not himself last year.

“That’s why we made the decision to sit him out after those first four games and not utilize the year eligibility so he’s able to get a redshirt year last year. Then of course this year doesn’t count so it’s like another redshirt year,” Whittingham continued. “He means a lot to our offense. He’s got a role that’s significant. He’s one of the best slot receivers in the Pac-12. And we’re expecting him to have an impact on our offense in a very positive way.” 

Covey can’t wait for the start of this truncated campaign, under these unusual circumstances amid a global pandemic. 

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“I’m just more excited than I’ve ever been for a season,” he said. 

Covey acknowledges that getting to this point has been challenging the past 18 months. 

“It’s been a process,” he said. “Last year, going into the season was such a mental battle because I wasn’t even thinking of football as much as I was thinking about my knees or my health. It was frustrating because I couldn’t get into it. I would line up for a play thinking about my knee rather than thinking about the actual play.”

After months of rehabbing and preparing, Covey is in a much better place.

“I just feel like I’m back to how I’ve always been as a competitor. And it’s great to be able to get into it with guys and feel that competitive nature come out again,” he said. “And it’s helped me to realize how not many people get to play the game they love at this age. I just feel really lucky right now. I’m really excited.”

In 2015 as a freshman, the Timpview High product caught 43 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns while returning 21 punts for 246 yards and a touchdown. He was named a Freshman All-American. 

Utah receiver Britain Covey runs through drills during fall camp at the University of Utah’s practice facility. After playing the first four games of the 2019 season, Covey shut things down as his body was recovering from offseason surgery. He’s back now and ready to go in 2020. | Utah Athletics

Then he left to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile.

After returning, Covey hauled in 60 receptions for 637 yards and a TD, rushed 21 times for 172 yards (8.2 yards per carry) and gained 221 yards on 25 punt returns (17 yards per return) in 2018. Covey is a two-time All-Pac-12 return specialist. 

“He’s a guy that can do it all. He can run the ball, he can take a handoff, he can catch the ball on the fly and take it 40 yards,” said tight end Brant Kuithe. “He can really do anything. As long as he’s healthy, we’re good to go. He can do so many things for our offense and I’m excited.” 

“It’s helped me to realize how not many people get to play the game they love at this age. I just feel really lucky right now. I’m really excited.” — Britain Covey

Whittingham is impressed with Covey’s work ethic and determination to get healthy again. 

“First of all, he’s a tireless worker. He’ll rehab as well as anybody we’ve ever had here,” he said. “He’s very conscientious of getting himself healthy. It means a lot to him.” 

Another key responsibility that Covey is taking on is leadership.  

“He’s a great leader for us. He was elected onto the leadership council. His teammates really respect him and he carries a lot of weight around here with his teammates,” Whittingham said. “He’s got a great attitude. He’s always, always positive and has a lot of juice and energy at practice. Just one of these guys, when you’re around him, he has an effect. He rubs off on everybody else as far as, his attitude is infectious, his enthusiasm and his passion for the game.”

Much to the Utes’ delight, Covey’s infectious enthusiasm and passion — and his ability to be a playmaker on offense and special teams — will be on display Saturday when Utah kicks off the season at Rice-Eccles Stadium.