For the last two years, when he was thousands of miles away serving a church mission in another country, BYU football fans enjoyed a break from the mental torture.
But Britain Covey has returned from serving in Chile, ready to torment Pac-12 defenses as he did three years ago as a freshman receiver for Utah. While the Cougars attempt to regroup from an awful showing offensively last season, one in which they lacked any semblance of a big-time receiver, they can only lament that a prototype BYU player from nearby Timpview High got away.
In what could be considered a surprise, considering his brothers and an uncle played for BYU, Covey bypassed his hometown school in favor of heading north to play for Kyle Whittingham’s team. Even standing only 5-foot-8, Covey is exactly the type of player BYU needs to succeed in college football as an independent.
Several years ago, as he was transitioning from defensive coordinator to head coach, Whittingham knew it was difficult for Utah to draw recruits out of BYU’s backyard in Utah County. For multiple decades, the Cougars cleaned up on the local talent and usually extended it to anywhere in the state.
In the 1980s, it was big news when Springville High quarterback Scott Mitchell rejected the pass-happy Cougars for Utah, which at that time was nowhere near a football power. Some 30 years later, such a move would barely raise an eyebrow.
This is not to suggest that Utah now has a stranglehold on the Latter-day Saint recruiting base in the state. Programs from around the country, particularly in the Pac-12, often raid the state for the best talent.
“I’m at the point I have to sneak in and out of Salt Lake,” joked Stanford coach David Shaw, during an interview on 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone.
Over the last several years, Stanford has made significant inroads in recruiting the state of Utah and LDS players in general. Former Brighton High star receiver Simi Fehoko is the latest, joining Stanford after serving two years on a mission in Korea. Tanner McKee, a highly touted quarterback from California, recently left on a mission.
At this point, Shaw said he can’t fathom not “having guys come back every couple of years and being a part of our football team.”
“Even aside from the religious aspect of the mission, the maturation process of two years being away – that two-year gap between going to high school, going to live in the world and then coming back – what these young people bring back to our program is phenomenal,” he said. “There is a maturity, there is a wisdom.”
Covey also is the latest to return from a mission for the Utes. He needed only a few days of practice this month to regain his spot in Utah’s rotation.
It was difficult to leave the Utes two years ago after a stellar freshman season, but he has no regrets.
“To say it was easy would be lying,” Covey said in an interview with The Zone Sports Network. “It was hard, but I had my priorities set. In the long run it was the best decision I could have ever made. To say that it wasn’t hard would be lying, but to say it wasn’t worth it also would be lying.”
As a freshman, Covey caught 43 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns (all team highs) and also served as the primary punt returner. This year, given his reputation, he will no longer be viewed as novelty act that came along with his lack of height.
“I’d get out on the field (in 2015) and I would hear things like, “Wow, this kid really is this small.’ I would hear defenders say things like ‘Oh man I’m going to eat you for breakfast’ – typical things that you hear in the movies,” he said.
Covey left a team that finished 10-3 and was ranked 27th in the final Associated Press poll but lacked firepower in the passing game. He believes this year’s receivers is far more talented than the group he left.
“I genuinely feel like this receiving corps just has talent like I’ve never seen,” he said. “We have so many guys with different strengths. I know there’s going to be a lot of guys that get playing time this year because of that, which is awesome because on a different play you want a guy with a different strength. Coach (Guy) Holliday is the perfect guy for this group because he’s consistent and he’s a player’s coach.”