SALT LAKE CITY — The 2018 season was not kind to Britain Covey.
The 5-foot-8 slot receiver led the team in receiving yards (637 yards) and was one of the most dynamic and reliable receivers on the Utah football team last season, but it wasn’t a season he necessarily liked.
Sure, the program accomplished its goal of winning the Pac-12 South Division and appeared in the conference championship game for the first time in program history, but it was that championship game where a season filled with injuries culminated with a season-ending knee injury — a tear to his ACL and meniscus — in the opening minutes of the game against Washington.
But the knee injury was just the final blow to his overall health in his first season back since serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among the regular bumps and bruises sustained in a season, Covey suffered a broken wrist in Week 6 against Arizona, several issues with his ribs from sustained hits and his shoulder popped out of place several times throughout the season.
“It wasn’t as fun of a season last year because I was injured all over the place,” Covey said Thursday after Utah’s second day of fall camp.
None of his injuries were public.
But Covey never threw in the towel or waved the white flag of surrender. It wasn’t in his DNA to use his injuries as an excuse. “That’s my mindset, and a lot of other players, to be honest. It’s just the reality.”
In a tweet after Covey had his knee surgery, his father called what his son did last season as “superhuman.” Maybe that’s just a father proud of his son’s work, but it truly was a star player doing what he needed to do to help his team win. And until he physically couldn’t continue, Covey wasn’t quitting.
But the love of the game does come with its costs.
Britain Covey still has his shiftiness ... pic.twitter.com/bakrvzP5Tv— Josh Furlong (@JFurKSL) August 1, 2019
Following an initial surgery to fix the ACL tear, Covey was forced to go under the knife for a second time on the same knee. He said something didn’t feel right and there was still pain despite being “far ahead of schedule” three months into recovery. He said he thinks he tried to rush his recovery in those first three months.
“I think that a lot of times players get too caught up in not listening to their body, whether it be for coaches, or fans, your family, even your own selfish desires to play,” Covey said. “I tried to get back too fast when I knew my body. And I tried to blind myself to the fact that I knew I wasn't ready for certain things.
“Even the trainers were telling me, but I was pushing it. It's a lesson that you learn, you gotta listen to your body, and you gotta trust what you feel,” he added.
But since his second surgery, Covey said his recovery has been “exponential” and that “within a week, I felt 10 times better than I had that whole process.”
“Physically, I feel good. I think it's still at a point where I have to think about it simply because these are our first practices. This is the first time I've been back. I'll be able to tell more next week for sure.
“My biggest thing is, when I line up, I don't want to be thinking about my knee,” he added. “I want to be thinking about beating the guy next to me and across from me. So that's the biggest thing I’ve got to overcome.”
As the leading receiver on a team and one that traditionally dwarfs the stereotypical Division I football athlete, Covey said it’s “inevitable” that people will continue to target him.
“Just go back to my freshman year, watch a couple of the games, watch the Cal game when I got targeted a few times,” Covey said. “Washington, you know. You even go back and watch my high school film. It’s just something you learn to deal with and just be aware of. You kind of take pride in the fact that people think that way.”
And while it would be nice if he got the opportunity to hit back, Covey said he’d “rather just run around them,” which is something he’s been extremely successful in doing in his two full seasons at Utah. But Covey hasn’t planned on changing his style of play because of a knee injury. No, he still wants to play with the shiftiness fans have come to love.
“I think I still want to play with my reckless abandon, as always, because that's what makes me me, and especially at my size,” Covey said. “But I definitely think that I can play smarter than I did probably last year.”
The junior receiver is expected to be ready in time for Utah’s Aug. 29 matchup against in-state rival BYU, but he’s still on a “pitch count” as he prepares for the season to start.
“The good news is they’re not limiting as much what I do, rather how much I do,” Covey said. “So it’s nice because I can do everything that the team requires me to do. But we don’t want to go too far to the point where my knee swells up or things like that.
“I don’t sit out certain drills, I just take less reps of those drills.”
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Covey looks “great” in his first two days of camp and the team is just being “judicious with the reps that he has to not start out too quick.”
“The objective is to not wear him out.”