Physically, man, if you could duplicate him and have seven guys out there at inside ’backer that look like that guy — athletic, strong, big — now he just has to learn it. He’s got to get the reps and learn it. It’s a brand new position for him. But athletically and physically, he can make up for a lot just by hustle and by who he is. He tries hard. I’ve been very impressed by how hard he tries. —BYU inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell
PROVO — Harvey Langi returned home from a mission a little more than a month ago. He’s learning a new position, having switched from offense to defense. He has only been at BYU for a couple of weeks after transferring from Utah.
But those factors haven’t stopped the former Bingham High All-America running back from moving into the starting Mike linebacker spot on the Cougar defensive depth chart.
Part of that may be because projected starter Zac Stout has missed considerable practice time with a hamstring injury, but inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell said that if he had to name a starter today, it would be Langi.
“He really is impressive, just coming home (from a mission) just before (fall camp),” Tidwell said. “Physically, man, if you could duplicate him and have seven guys out there at inside ’backer that look like that guy — athletic, strong, big — now he just has to learn it. He’s got to get the reps and learn it. It’s a brand new position for him. But athletically and physically, he can make up for a lot just by hustle and by who he is. He tries hard. I’ve been very impressed by how hard he tries.”
It’s too early to say whether or not Langi will earn the start for the season-opener at Connecticut on Aug. 29, but his overall performance and mercurial rise up the depth chart has been one of the big storylines of BYU’s fall camp.
"Harvey is going to play this season, and it will be an active role," coach Bronco Mendenhall said after last Saturday’s scrimmage. "He’s done a nice job so far in seven or eight practices, and he’s a great fit for our program. He’s also a good football player."
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Langi is one of the top prep running backs the state has produced. He had 570 carries for 4,289 yards and 55 touchdowns during his spectacular career at Bingham High.
As a freshman at Utah, he played in 11 games in 2011, rushing 13 times for 70 yards, including four carries for 33 yards against BYU. His season-long run was for 27 yards at the expense of the Cougars.
Now, Langi is a Cougar.
After a flurry of reports, speculation and rumors in the days after he finished his mission in Tampa, Florida, in early July, Langi joined BYU in time for fall camp on Aug. 1. He sported a white No. 21 jersey, and was playing a new position — linebacker.
“That's where he chose to play,” said Mendenhall after that first practice, “and I'm very impressed — not only with him as a person, but as a football player, just in one practice. We're right at the beginning of his career, but I'm impressed with him.”
Of course, BYU has long been familiar with Langi, having recruited him out of high school. But the coaches were amazed by Langi during that first practice session.
“He was really impressive the first day he came into camp. He had 10 percent body fat, could run, was quick, could change direction,” Tidwell said. “I mean, it did not look like he had just come home off a mission. And everybody’s different. That doesn’t mean that somebody who came home the same time he did has to be in same physical condition because bodies are different. He’s been blessed with size and strength and athleticism. It’s really shown. Plus, he’s a leader. He’s very vocal and he’s taking charge out there. Sometimes he doesn’t always make the right calls or say the right things or do the right things. But that’s coming with reps, and he’s getting better every day.”
Mike linebacker is a crucial position in BYU’s 3-4 defensive scheme. Last year’s starter at that position, Uani Unga, holds the current-era record for most tackles in a single season for the Cougars.
At the other inside linebacker position, Buck linebacker, projected starter Manoa Pikula has been out while resolving academic issues. He was expected to return to practice sometime this week.
Austin Heder, who entered fall camp as the projected backup to Stout at Mike linebacker after recently returning home from a mission, has been the starter at Buck.
Teu Kautai and Jherremya Leuta-Douyere have been backing up Langi and Heder. But Tidwell added that Pikula and Stout “are going to be in the mix” this season.
Will Pikula reclaim his starting job at Buck linebacker?
“Whether he starts or not will really be up to him — how prepared he is and how well conditioned he is,” Tidwell said. “He’s going to have to earn it.”
Leuta-Douyere is also switching to the inside linebacker position after playing outside linebacker last season.
“Jherremya is becoming more and more reliable learning the position,” Tidwell said. “He’s smart. He’s a big kid. Very physical, very strong. He had a good spring, but it was new for him in the spring, and he’s still learning. But he’s getting it.”
Other inside linebackers who could make an impact this season include Sione Takitaki, Toloa’i Ho Ching and Phillip Amone.
“We’re going to have some good depth at that position,” Tidwell said. “Right now, we have seven guys that are active and three more to still get out there. We’ll have 10 total.”
One of those 10 is a recently returned missionary acclimating to a new school and learning a new position.
So far it appears Langi is equal to the challenge.