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Jeffrey D. Allred
Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) runs for yardage in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Britain Covey returned to expectations so lofty it seemed unfair for a guy who hadn’t played football for two and a half years.

"It felt really good," said Covey, who returned from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in March. "It was surreal. It didn't hit me until probably midway through the second quarter that I wasn't in Chile anymore. I felt really good. I love this stadium. To this day, it's my favorite stadium to play in."

But in the third quarter, the sophomore showed exactly why those hopes were so high when he turned a broken play into a spectacular 38-yard run that set up running back Zack Moss for his second touchdown in the Utes' 41-10 win over Weber State on Thursday night.

“I kind of went back to my Timpview days, scrambling as a quarterback,” Covey said. “We just didn’t have the right personnel in on that play, so the route wasn’t quite there.”

He said it “felt pretty good” to turn what could have been a disaster into a highlight. And while the remarkable run will be what everyone is talking about in the afterglow of the season-opening win, the moment it was clear that Covey was back to pre-mission form came in the second quarter when the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Covey blocked 6-foot-3, 270-pound Jordan Lutui to protect Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley.

Weber State coach Jay Hill said he felt like his defense did a decent job against Covey, but praised the wide receiver.

“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” Hill said. “He’s got great vision. … In high school, you could barely touch the guy. He’s only going to get better, too.”

Covey finished with six catches for 53 yards and ran the ball twice, gaining 64 yards.

Still, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes have to find more ways to get Covey the ball.

“We want to use him in flank sweep situations,” he said. “He is multi-talented and we need to get the ball in his hands 15 times a game, whether it is a bubble screen or jet sweep. We need to do a better job of opening lanes for him.”

That includes better blocking so Covey can execute the jaw-dropping runs he gave Utah during his freshman season.

Covey joked about playing in his first game in two years in the post-game press conference, but there was nothing about his performance that indicated he felt any rust — physical or mental. In fact, even when Utah fell behind 10-0, he said he wasn’t worried.

“I knew what we were capable of,” he said. “I just tried to be a spark, not just with my play but on the sideline, getting the team up. We knew there was going to be some adversity, and we didn’t buckle under the pressure.”

Even with the attention his entertaining run brought him, he was much more excited to talk about his teammates.

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“I love Siaosi (Mariner),” he said of the junior who led the receivers with six catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. “If you were to compare this year’s Siaosi to the last three years, his attitude and his mentality is completely different. He’s such a team guy. He’s one of the leaders of our corps. He had a great game tonight; so reliable.”

He then turned his praise to Demari Simpkins, who had just two catches for 13 yards.

“Same with Demari,” he said. “People are going to talk that Demari didn’t have a great game, but the whole receiving corps knows Demari is our leader. He is the best, and I know he’s going to have a great season.”

And with 26 catches and 293 yards passing that resulted in four touchdowns, it seems Utah might finally have the air attack to match its ground game.