There always seem to be jokes about Utah wide receiver Britain Covey’s age.
During media availability via Zoom Monday morning, he cracked that he’s been in the program for 35 years.
It only seems that way.
Covey had an impactful freshman season in 2015, followed by a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Chile. Since returning from his mission, he’s experienced both good times and tough times. He’s dealt with a variety of injuries.
While he is as healthy as he’s been for some time, during spring practices, in some ways, Covey is feeling a little different.
“We’ve got a great group of guys and I’m really grateful for that. It is really cool to be an older guy on the team. It’s strange,” said the 5-foot-8 junior from Provo. “Every other year in my career, I’ve felt like this was the older guys’ team. This is probably the first year where I come in and I see someone doing something that maybe is not in Ute culture. And I’m the one that’s like, ‘No, this is my team. We don’t act like that here. This is our team.’ That’s really cool to feel like that and feel like an older guy.”
Most years, Utah loses a handful of players to the NFL. But all the players that could have declared for the draft have decided to return for the 2021 campaign.
“I’ve been wanting to have another full season with the guys for two years now,” Covey said. “It’s one of those things where the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, including going to the NFL. I’m glad that everybody stayed.”
Having so many experienced veterans, and leaders, could give the Utes an edge this season. Covey is one of those leaders — and it’s a role he relishes.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a player and as a teammate during my time here. I’ve always tried to be the type of leader on the team ... I am vocal in front of the group but more so I try to be a one-on-one type of person so that if anyone has any issues or if anyone is struggling, they know they can come to me privately,” he said. “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
“I’ll give them an ear to listen to and I’ve always tried to be that type of person. … Leadership can be expressed in many different ways. The older I get, the more I realize how personal, what it needs to be for it to be personal and authentic and for people to really respect you.”
Coach Kyle Whittingham underscores the importance of leadership within the program.
“It’s invaluable,” he said. “You can never have too much great leadership. We have great leaders coming up through the ranks with the younger guys. We feel like we’re in a good place as far as that goes.”
Whittingham calls the 2021 roster “the most unique since I’ve been a football coach.”
Why? It’s what he describes as “super seniors,” those who were seniors a year ago but didn’t lose a year of eligibility due to NCAA rules during the pandemic. No players lost a year of eligibility in 2020.
“They don’t count against the scholarship numbers. We have 120 players out for spring ball. I can’t remember ever being above 90,” Whittingham said. “The pause in eligibility is a big reason for that. We have a bunch of players in the program right now.
“It’s more of a fall camp feel than it is a spring ball feel right now because of the numbers. We have 70-plus between the freshman and sophomore class. That’s probably the most we’ve ever had there. … After this season, things should get back to more of a normal feel.”
This spring is crucial, especially after last year’s spring ball was canceled due to the pandemic.
“Spring is definitely important, especially for the young guys. It’s a time of the year where mistakes are OK to be made,” said junior linebacker Devin Lloyd. “You can play as fast as you can without the worry of, if you do mess up, it’s OK. This is the time when you want to make mistakes. It’s important for the young guys and getting everyone up to speed as fast as you can. It’s only going to help us. It’s 15 more practices than we had last year.”
Covey believes the pieces are in place for this team to have a memorable season.
“I have a similar feeling this year as to what I did before 2019, with the group of guys, with returning starters, with the opportunity to do something special,” he said. “I have a similar feeling. I think we’re going to have a great year as a team. That’s the thing that excites me the most.”