He’s a very unique kid, now a young man, who just gets it. I don’t think the adaptation will be anything. —Wide receivers coach Guy Holliday
SALT LAKE CITY — If the advice offered by his brothers and father helped Britain Covey prepare for the jarring transition from living every day as an LDS Church missionary to life as a college athlete, it was his sister’s words that offered him a bridge between the two worlds.
Explaining that missionaries are moved around to different cities within a mission’s boundaries by church leaders, Covey said that while they might have apprehension about leaving an area and the people they loved, they also learned to trust and embrace new service opportunities.
“You’d never go into a new area sad or not ready,” said Covey, who returned from a two-year mission in Chile last week. “One thing my sister said to me was just, ‘You’ve kind of got to look at home as your next area.’ God’s got things for me to do here at home. I have to find out what those are. It’s helped a lot.”
Covey’s family traveled to Chile and spent some time in the communities where he’d lived and proselytized for the last two years.
“That was wonderful,” he said. “That really helped with the transition. We mostly visited members and converts and families that I was teaching.”
When Covey finally arrived back in Utah the morning of March 7, several of his coaches, as well as freshman quarterback Jack Tuttle, met him at the airport. While his return has been highly anticipated by fans, teammates and his coaches, it isn’t just because he enjoyed a standout freshman season, which included 43 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns.
“Brit is a different breed of cat,” said wide receivers coach Guy Holliday, who recruited Covey in high school while a coach at BYU. “He’ll adjust well. He’s a leader, and he just does things differently. Ever since I’ve been around him. He’s a very unique kid, now a young man, who just gets it. I don’t think the adaptation will be anything. For him it will be the physical liabilities that come with going on a mission.”
The transition from studying scriptures to studying playbooks feels abrupt, but at least one of Covey’s teammates said it just takes time.
“It’s tough, but it happens naturally,” said linebacker Chase Hansen. “You get back, and you know you’re weird. You know you’re different. You feel a little out of place.”
Some of the angst comes from having your heart in two very different places.
“I think you miss the people,” Hansen said. “You miss the experiences you have, but for me personally, it was good to be home.”
While Covey is not enrolled in school and can’t fully participate in spring camp with the team, he has been up to the U. to watch film and reconnect with his teammates and coaches.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he said. “It brings back all the old memories, getting back in the film room. You know how it is when you have something exciting in the day to look forward to, and when you think about it, your heart starts beating really fast. It’s been so fun.”
Covey said the purpose one feels as a missionary is singular and sustaining, and waking up without that is one of the more difficult aspects.
"In the mission, you feel this constant weight upon your shoulders, that you are on the Lord’s errand,” he said. “He’s putting someone in your path, he’s going to put the words in your mouth, he will lead you to someone who needs to know that he loves them and that he has a plan for them. That’s why it really helped me to look at it as if my next 'area' is life.
"You don’t feel that weight, and you're not praying 20 times a day, and it’s different. Instead of always thinking about that, you have to start thinking about yourself and your life.”
Part of that is thinking about football.
He said, as odd as it seems, there are parallels that provide him with continuity.
“Football is not life, but life is a lot like football,” he said of what his high school coach once told his team. “And I really believe that.”
He even applied one of the principles he learned as a player to his time as a missionary.
“We focus on our goals and not enough on our plans,” he said. “If you think about it, goals are external. Outside forces can impact them. Your plans, you have 100 percent control over those. It’s the same thing with the gospel. If I say, ‘God, I want to find 10 people to teach.’ That’s a goal. Not all of that depends on me, some of it depends on other people.
"A plan would be, I’m going to talk with 30 people in the street every day. I have complete, 100 percent control over that. And then, if we’re true to our plans, and we don’t reach our goals, all we have to do is adjust our plans.”
Covey said that when he first arrived in Chile, he struggled to approach strangers because he couldn’t speak Spanish very well.
“I realized that was a weakness,” he said. “I went to the Lord, and I made little commitments to God. ‘I promise I will not come back to the house tonight until I talk to 20 people.’ I don’t care if it’s 2 o’clock in the morning. That commitment was greater than my fear of talking to people. By the end of my mission, that weakness was my strength. It just showed me a lot about how those little commitments can transform a weakness into a strength.”
Whatever Covey has lacked in football’s usual measure of potential — size — he’s made up for it with quickness, intelligence and preparation. Before his freshman season, the former Timpview quarterback worked relentlessly on learning to catch punts and run routes. That extra effort, coupled with his natural quickness, allowed him to surprise just about everybody but the coaches who recruited him.
Covey is approaching the next three months in much the same way. He’s working with former Bingham and BYU linebacker Jordan Pendleton to gain strength and improve his speed and agility.
“We have a punter coming to punt with me,” he said. “I have a jugs machine, so I can work on my hands. And I’ve made arrangements to throw with the quarterbacks.”
Covey was on campus Wednesday night watching film and spending time with his teammates. He will play for a new coach, and he said he’d have been concerned about the change had it been anybody but Holliday.
“I had a great relationship with coach (Taylor) Stubblefield,” Covey said, adding that he heard from Utah coaches regularly while on his mission through emails. “I learned a lot from him. He was very technical, and he helped me because he wasn’t that big either. So I would have (had an issue) if it wasn’t coach Holliday coming in. He’s the one who offered me before my senior year. He’s always believed in what I could do, so I was really excited. He’s a great coach.”
Holliday understands why fans became so attached to Covey during his freshman season. Some of it was the success he had; some of it is that he defies football stereotypes.
“If you make plays, people follow you,” he said. “To deny all the stereotypes, he’s 5-foot-9, and some have compared him to former NFL receiver Wes Welker, he just doesn’t meet any of the stereotypes that fit any position. And he’s just a natural-born leader.”