SALT LAKE CITY — Things weren’t healing as quickly as hoped. Nearly 10 months after injuring his right knee in the 2018 Pac-12 championship game against Washington, Utah receiver/return specialist Britain Covey was still having trouble with his leg.
The initial flareup, Covey recalled, occurred prior to the third game of the season — a 31-0 win over Idaho State.
“I just had this crazy swelling built up from a walk-through,” he said. “That was the first instance.”
Things grew worse less than one week later when the Utes left for Los Angeles and a highly anticipated Pac-12 opener at USC.
“That was our first away game, I looked at my knee and it had swollen up on the flight,” Covey said. “And it was like if I’m swelling up on flights then something is still wrong with it. We spent all night trying to get the swelling down for the USC game. It was still swollen during the game.”
At that point Covey felt like he was a liability to the team. Even so, he made three catches that night and had a team-high 10 receptions through four games — also topping the Utes in kickoff and punt returns.
Covey, though, decided the smart thing to do was shut things down and take a redshirt year. He hasn’t played in a game since Utah’s 30-23 loss to the Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 20, 2019.
“It was hard and I knew it was the right decision when I made it. But it didn’t make it any easier,” Covey said. “I still know it was the right decision and I am grateful for it. The one thing I didn’t know was I didn’t know how much I was lacking until I got to this point.”
After the first week of spring practices, prior to camp being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Covey declared himself healthy and said he was feeling great. The junior was no longer wearing a brace and was fully participating in camp.
“I’m at 95%. I’m at 100% when I’m on the field right now. But then it does stiffen up still after practice. It takes longer to warm up,” Covey said. “But in the actual practice part I’m getting fast times. I timed my 40 and all those things and I’m just as fast as before, if not faster.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham also has a positive assessment.
“Covey’s back. He’s as quick and fast as ever, playing without the brace and we’re looking for him to have a big year,” he said, noting that his return makes the Utah offense a lot more dynamic — including with special teams, where the former Timpview High star is one of the nation’s best when it comes to fielding kickoffs and punts.
“That just gives us another weapon in that regard and we missed him last year,” Whittingham said. “The guys that filled in did a nice job, but he’s a special returner.”
Whittingham added that there’s no concern about having Covey return kicks despite his injury.
“No, not at all,” Whittingham said, “That’s one of the main things he does and one of the things he gets most excited about.”
Covey’s competitive nature made sitting out 10 games last season extremely difficult. He acknowledged telling folks he was closer to being back to his usual self than he really was in recovering from the injury.
“Maybe it was pride, maybe it was just being used to do things a certain way,” Covey said. “But I would tell people I’m at about 80%, when now that I’m at the point I’m at that I realize I was at 60%.”
However, there were silver linings that followed. Among them is peace of mind on the football field.
“It’s so fun. I’d say my favorite part is finally being able to forget about my knee. That was the worst part about last year, is lining up for a route and focusing 50% on your assignment and 50% on my knee,” Covey said. “And I think that was when I knew it was time to call it. Because now I can go out and not even have a second thought about my knee and it’s nice.”
More importantly, Covey used the time off to court and eventually marry his wife, Leah. They tied the knot in January.
Covey refers to it as the greatest things of all time and something he would tear his knee up 10 times to experience.
“At the end of the day I really think God orchestrates a lot of things and it was funny how I had so much extra time to meet my wife and to be with her because I had a torn ACL and I wasn’t doing football,” he said. “So I don’t know if that would have happened without it. So I’m grateful. I’ve got to look at it that way.”
It’s part of the bottom line for Covey.
“I’m back, yes, and it feels great,” he said.
Covey led the Utes in receptions before and after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile. He had 43 catches in 2015 and 60 in 2018. The two-time All-Pac-12 return specialist has also been honored as a Freshman All-American.