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He is ‘still a Utah Man,’ but RB Devonta’e Henry-Cole will be donning BYU blue soon, and he can’t wait to face his former team

Graduate-transfer who signed with the Cougars in February after four years as a Ute spoke publicly for the first time since entering the transfer portal in January. Why did he choose BYU? And does he harbor ill feelings for Utah?

Devonta’e Henry-Cole celebrates a touchdown with Keven Dixon during a scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Henry-Cole entered the transfer portal in January and signed with rival BYU in February. He spoke publicly to the Deseret News for the first time about his decision to transfer to BYU.
Devonta’e Henry-Cole celebrates a touchdown with Keven Dixon during a scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Henry-Cole entered the transfer portal in January and signed with rival BYU in February. He spoke publicly to the Deseret News for the first time about his decision to transfer to BYU.
Alex Goodlett, Deseret News

PROVO — Like most Utahns, Devonta’e Henry-Cole is hunkered down in his apartment near the University of Utah campus, doing his part to “flatten the curve” and keep the number of cases of the coronavirus at a manageable level for medical professionals.

But when the former Utes running back does venture out in public, what does he wear? Is it Utah red or BYU blue?

That’s not a clown question, after “DHC” decided shortly after the Utes lost 38-10 to Texas in the Alamo Bowl to leave Utah’s program with a year of eligibility remaining. Henry-Cole had one carry in the Dec. 31 game, for 3 yards.

As has been well-documented, he entered the transfer portal in late January as an immediately-eligible grad-transfer and signed with rival BYU in early February.

“I haven’t got my BYU gear yet, I’ve only been over there a couple times. I still wear my Utah gear and I am still a Utah man,” Henry-Cole told the Deseret News Sunday in his first public comments since his announcement on Twitter that he was done playing for Utah. “I have been there for four years. I have nothing against Utah. I am still going to rep the red when I am at Utah and when I am at BYU I am going to rep the blue.”

Henry-Cole said he’s still on track to graduate from Utah in late April with a degree in sociology; because he is in his fourth year — he redshirted in 2018 due to a preexisting arm injury that became worse in fall camp — Henry-Cole hasn’t had to pile on a bunch of course credits and classes to graduate.

“Just a normal semester,” he said.

However, as anyone who is even remotely familiar with the Utah-BYU rivalry knows, moving from one school to the other is anything but normal. For the most part, Utah fans and his former teammates have taken it well, he said. Utah coaches, not so much.

“They were upset when I told them that I wanted to leave and all that stuff,” Henry-Cole said. “There are great coaches over there. There is nothing wrong with Utah. I love all their coaches, their staff. I love coach Kyle Whittingham and all the coaches and everything. I just thought it was best for me to leave.”

It was mostly about playing time, or lack thereof, he said, but there were other factors he didn’t want to discuss as much.

“The last couple of years, I just wasn’t happy, so I think it was best for me to transfer,” he said. “I did my four years. I have been a team player. It is my senior year so I want to do what is best for me this coming year. I think it is best for me to just move on.”

In his three seasons at Utah, Henry-Cole accounted for 469 combined rushing and receiving yards, on 90 touches. He scored four touchdowns.

“I am totally thankful for my time at the University of Utah,” he said. “There are great fans who supported me. I thought I was going to be getting bad tweets and everything when I (signed) with BYU. But they were mostly supportive and happy for me. … I got tweeted some bad messages, but that’s just how it is. Most were supportive, and I appreciate them.”

Asked about DHC’s departure on signing day, Whittingham said he wasn’t willing to “guarantee him anything” so the 5-foot-8, 195-pound running back “did what he thought was best for him.”

Said Henry-Cole: “From what I’ve heard, they are still pretty mad that I am leaving and everything, but I will see them again Sept. 3.”

Ahh, Sept. 3. That’s when Utah is scheduled to host BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium, assuming the college football season isn’t postponed or canceled like other college sports this spring.

“It is going to be a great feeling to get that one last time playing at Rice-Eccles,” Henry-Cole said. “It is going to be a great game. That’s all I want. I just want a great game between those teams. I am not going to be trash-talking or anything, because those used to be my brothers and everything, those used to be my coaches. It is going to be a good day on Sept. 3.”

Henry-Cole said he was able to catch one spring practice at BYU before the school canceled spring camp after its seventh practice. He was impressed with what he saw.

“There are a couple of really good running backs already there,” he said. “And the energy from the coaches was really good. They made me want to go to BYU, and also made me feel wanted. I know I still have to compete. Nothing is given down there.”

Henry-Cole grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, and has a hyphenated last name, he said, because his mother is Tanya Henry and his father is Gary Cole and they wanted it that way. He played in only three games his senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas High due to a fractured wrist.

At Utah, returned missionaries Britain Covey and Chase Hansen were among his best friends, and he was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Hansen in 2018.

He said that partially explains why he ended up at BYU, which is owned and operated by that faith.

“One, I am LDS, so just being around people that are the same religion as me was a plus,” he said, when asked why he chose a rival school. “And coach (Aaron) Roderick used to be one of my coaches at Utah, and he’s a great coach. I played for him for one year and learned that. … Second, I just went on my official visit and I loved everything about it, and knew it would be a good fit. That weekend, I committed.”

Henry-Cole said he was also impressed that BYU landed a couple grad-transfer RBs last year — South Carolina’s Ty’Son Williams and Rice’s Emmanuel Esukpa — and gave them ample playing time before both sustained season-ending injuries.

“Those guys got the chance to show out and show what they have, and I know they will give me the opportunity to compete if I practice well and do my assignments right,” he said.

And by that time, he will have plenty of BYU gear.