WR Covey overcomes stature to star for No. 18 Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah assistant coach Sharrieff Shah still watches the scene on a weekly basis, some defenders snickering on the sideline as the No. 18 Utes warm up. The laughs are directed at Britain Covey - the 5-foot-8, 166-pound freshman receiver with the choirboy face.

After 60 minutes of play, the laughter is gone.

Expectations for Covey were modest in 2015 - special teams, mostly - but he blossomed into the Utes' leading receiver despite his unassuming looks.

''From a corners' coach perspective, you say don't judge this kid because of his stature,'' Shah said. ''Don't judge this kid because you don't think he's long enough. And please don't judge this kid because he's not black, because he will hurt you.

''Every game it's the same. And you love that because he continues to just beat up people's judgments and opinions of him.''

He now leads Utah in receptions (41), receiving yards (518) and touchdown catches (4). He's the No. 2 punt returner in the Pac-12.

Covey stepped onto the Utah campus with a stellar reputation after leading Timpview High School in Provo, Utah, to back-to-back state titles at quarterback and scoring a combined 100 touchdowns as a junior and senior. There's a 12-minute highlight video on YouTube of Covey's touchdowns - starting, stopping, juking and running past defenders with 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Jim Harding believe his quarterback background quickened Covey's development as a receiver, though he credits visualization.

That practice began when Covey ''freaked out'' after being called up to play varsity as a sophomore in high school. His grandfather Stephen Covey, who wrote the best-seller ''Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,'' always said ''all things are created twice - first mentally, then physically.''

Covey envisions a situation over and over in his mind and heads outside to close his eyes and go through the motions.

The coaching staff knew his elusiveness would translate, so he was penciled in as the heir apparent to kick return man Kaelin Clay and they figured Covey could grow into a slot receiver.

''I think it would be a lie to say I expected this, but I definitely expected success at this level, for sure,'' Covey said. ''I think it surprised a lot of people other than myself more. There are a lot of doubters, especially when you're my size.''

The doubters included teammates. Cornerback Brian Allen thought he would take advantage of Covey in those early practices, but quickly learned better. Now the defensive backs want to go against him during 1-on-1 drills to get the best practice possible.

Covey may be the best route-runner on the team and has the ability to make cuts without losing speed. Defenders look silly as they grasp for air or take bad angles. He also seems to get rocked on a weekly basis.

''I don't know how many times we've see DBs all year long think they just smacked him, he pops right up and they go back down with a shoulder (injury),'' Shah said. ''It's amazing. I cringe every time I see it. I'm like, ''Oh God, don't kill Covey.' I'm telling you he's tough as nails.''

The Covey phenomenon has taken over the Utes fan base. But he'll be unavailable the next two years while on a Mormon mission. Many tried to talk Covey out of it, so he put a statement on Twitter explaining his intentions. His mom forwarded him an Internet meme that offered $1,000 to the co-ed that keeps Covey from leaving.

''I laughed at that,'' Covey said. ''I was like, `Mom, we can use that $1,000.'''

He'll still have three years of eligibility after his break for mission work. Oftentimes, Mormon youth go on mission straight out of high school.

''Growing up in Utah County, you don't experience a lot of different life challenges or diversity in life,'' Covey said. ''So, I don't know if I was necessarily ready to go on a mission having not kind of experienced a little bit of what life is all about.

''Coming up here has helped me out, just seeing new things and being around a lot of guys that are different than I am and being able to interact with them.''

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