SAN DIEGO — After earning Poinsettia Bowl defensive MVP honors last Wednesday night in Qualcomm Stadium, BYU's Harvey Langi needed just over two hours to turn pro.
Langi signed with a sports agent shortly after returning to the Grant Hyatt Hotel, the Cougars' team headquarters. He has his eye on the NFL combine, possible postseason play and whatever comes his way at the next level.
This bowl game couldn’t have turned out better for Langi on a stage where scouts could see his athletic versatility. He had a career-high 16 tackles, 10 of them solo.
For this game, he’d been asked to switch from defensive end to linebacker. He has also been used sparingly as a running back by BYU's coaching staff.
There are more than a few Langi friends and family members who’ve questioned all this switching around. But it is BYU head coach Kalani Sitake who reassured the Langi camp that if he did what he asked, Langi would have a great shot at playing at the next level.
So far, you’ve got to respect Sitake’s judgment. If you look at the players at Utah he moved around to different positions, creating hybrid defensive end/linebackers, Sitake’s judgment proved valuable, from Koa Misi (Miami Dolphins 2010) Nate Orchard (Cleveland Browns 2015), and Trevor Reilly, his insight has proved valuable and it will be for Langi.
Sitake plots and plans in a way to position players for success beyond college. Recruits like that. Some on his roster certainly did this year.
Following BYU’s 24-21 win over Wyoming, Langi said he’d received plenty of questions about his multi-dimensional role with the Cougars.
“Everyone always comes up and asks me the different positions, blah, blah, blah and I tell them, 'Hey, I get to play football and that's what I love doing'. If I'm going to play football as the placeholder, the kicker, the D-end, linebacker or running back, I'm happy because I get to play football. So it was fun playing linebacker today.”
The switch for Langi came in part because outside linebacker Francis Bernard was suspended for undisclosed reasons. Langi found himself playing alongside his second cousin, Butch Pau’u. Both families were present for the agent signing Wednesday night.
Langi credited BYU’s defensive linemen for helping him play defensive end. He credited defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki for helping him digest the nuances of being a linebacker.
With Sitake, Langi sees a guy who's established a unique culture in BYU’s football program, one that fosters trust and a desire for kids to play hard.
“Just the way he embraces the team and how he treats us and allows us to control the team. I felt like my voice could be -- you know, was a big influence. I felt the way Coach would care for us and love us. He would do it through his actions, but he would verbally say that, constantly every day,” said Langi, who transferred to BYU after signing with Utah then serving an LDS mission.
“When you have someone like that, you know, on and off the football field, you have his back and you want to do the best. I don't ever want to disappoint Coach Kalani or any of the staff members because of that. All the younger guys that get to play under their coaching, they're lucky and very blessed.”
Langi’s performance, and that of other seniors, spoke volumes about the competitive juices Sitake got out of his seniors. It is a methodology we’ve seen in Urban Meyer coached teams where the seniors must take charge, own things and deliver.
If it wasn’t Langi, it was senior safety Kai Nacua, whose 14th career interception was a game-clincher when Wyoming was driving to score what would have been 21 unanswered points and a win.
If it wasn’t Nacua, it was senior running back Jamaal Williams, who laid it all out in a 210-yard school bowl-rushing-record effort.
No class of seniors wants to go out losers. It is a slap, a kick and a terrible feeling.
After four seasons of that happening in December, you have to credit Sitake and his staff for feeding the fire for the seniors who blazed the way to 9-4.
Results do all the talking.