Vai's View: Football, missions and ties that bind

Published: Friday, July 6 2012 12:32 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes running back Harvey Langi (21)as the University of Utah defeats UCLA 31-6 in PAC 12 football Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

In less than three weeks, on Wednesday, July 25, one of the most decorated and highly recruited high school running backs in the country two years ago will check into the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.

Harvey Langi will spend about three weeks in the MTC before he boards a plane with fellow missionaries headed to the Florida Tampa Mission, where he will be greeted by his mission president, Bruce Summerhays, a former PGA golfer from Farmington, Utah.

The second-oldest of Sam and Kalesita Langi's nine children, Harvey will be the first in his family to serve a mission. Naturally, the Langis are elated with Harvey's decision.

"Harvey is the kind of kid who keeps things close to the vest," Sam told me Thursday night. "But my wife and I have always made it clear what our hopes and dreams for him was — that he'd serve a mission."

It was in December when Harvey came home for Christmas break at the end of the football season that he informed his parents of his intention to serve a mission. He didn't tell them when, just that he planned to go. Careful not to intrude on his decision or that he'd have a change of heart, they simply waited to see when it would happen.

"He returned to school in January and apparently told coach (Kyle) Whittingham," Sam said. "But he played spring ball, so I had some misgivings that if he played in the fall, perhaps it may not happen."

But they started to see changes in Harvey's life.

"His hair was always long," said Sam. "Then suddenly he came home one weekend and it's really short. He was slowly making changes in his life and it was apparent in how he looked but also how he acted and in the company he was keeping.

"Kale and I are so grateful for the good influences Harvey has on the team, his coaches, (LDS) institute people, his friends, campus bishop, stake president and teachers who have helped him."

Sam Langi and I were boyhood friends in Tonga before our families immigrated to the States. Sam works with Delta Air Lines at Salt Lake City International Airport, but when we spoke late Thursday night, he was in Roosevelt preparing for an interview for a second job to help pay for Harvey's mission.

We raised our families on opposite coasts and rarely see each other, but we remain close because of our upbringing.

Though I followed his high school football career and recruiting on the Internet, I had never met Harvey until April 2011 — his freshman year at the University of Utah. I make an annual trip to Salt Lake City every April to take my college-age sons to the priesthood session of general conference, a tradition we've had when each boy turns 12 and receives the Aaronic Priesthood.

Typically, I also take the young men from my New Jersey stake who are attending Utah colleges, and that particular year I was short on tickets.

So I called Kyle Whittingham for some help. Kyle obliged but with a request of his own.

"I've got a couple of Polynesian kids I'd love for you take," Kyle said. "If you have room."

Harvey Langi was one of them.

We met up at the Conference Center with a bunch of other Polynesian LDS NFL players with whom we all sat together. Afterwards, we stopped for a burger.

As we walked to our vehicle following the session, I have a lasting memory of something Harvey did that impressed me.

Two missionaries in Temple Square were asking for a ride home and Harvey asked them where they lived. It turned out they lived in South Jordan, near the Langis' home. Harvey asked me if we could take them home, so we did.

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