Kyle Whittingham says Utah’s policy, in most instances, is that when a player comes to him and says he’s going into the transfer portal, the door back to Utah is pretty much closed regardless of what options may or may not present themselves in the portal.

In most instances. 

Jaylen Dixon’s situation was not most instances.

The Utah wide receiver entered the transfer portal in October 2020. The following February, he withdrew his name from the portal and re-committed to Whittingham’s program. Whittingham needed to know he was all-in before letting him return to the team, and the 2021 season represented another test of Dixon’s resolve — just five catches in 10 appearances.

“I needed to hear that he was all in and that he had got himself together and was in a good place from a mental standpoint,” said Whittingham earlier this week when he met with reporters. “That (withdrawing from the portal) wasn’t just by default, that he had nothing else going. I needed to know that he was sincerely and genuinely wanting to be a part of this football team and be a guy that would come in and be a great teammate, do whatever he was asked to do, and play his role to the utmost of his ability.

“And that’s what he expressed to me.”

The senior receiver from Frisco, Texas had his best game of the season in Utah’s 42-16 win over Oregon State. Just two touches, one on the ground and one through the air, but both went for touchdowns.

Dixon scored on a leaping 19-yard catch on the Utes’ first drive of the game, and then again on a 22-yard reverse late in the third quarter. A lane developed to the endzone on the end-around and it’s almost like Dixon hit another gear.

“It felt fun, just being able to go out there and work with the plays that Coach got me in on, and doing the most with my chances,” Dixon said this week. “That’s been the biggest thing, not knowing how many chances I will get, but being able to do the most with those chances.”

In both instances, the sideline erupted as he crossed the goal line.

“To see him get that success, it’s made the whole team happy,” said quarterback Cameron Rising this week, via All Utes’ Cole Bagley. “When I called that play I told him to go score a touchdown on the reverse and he went and handled the rest. He’s a phenomenal player, a phenomenal person and I love having him as a teammate.”

Added Dixon: “It’s fun. It hits for the whole team. You see somebody score, you just want to be so hype for them, and go crazy for them. It’s just how it works here, no matter who scores. We were just throwing a party. It’s fun.”

Which is how receivers coach Chad Bumphis would describe coaching Dixon at the moment.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “JD’s a completely different person than he was last year. I’ve known JD since I was a (graduate assistant) here, so I saw him as a freshman. This year, he’s more of a leader. In the meeting room, his conversations are different. Everything you want from a senior is what we’re getting from him, and we’re a better group because of it.”

As Utah’s offense continues to find itself without Brant Kuithe in the picture, there’s certainly an opportunity for a receiver to step up and fill a role that maybe wasn’t there in Week 1. Utah has Devaughn Vele and Money Parks showing improvement each week, perhaps Dixon can regain the kind of footing he had in the offense during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, when he put up 56 receptions for 932 receiving yards.

“It may sound cliché, but just having fun with the game,” Dixon said when asked how he’s grown as a player over the last few years. “You come out here, and you see yourself making certain plays, you visualize it, you make the play and it brings more confidence to you. It’s been great.”