Late Monday morning, Sam and Kalesita Langi accepted their son, Elder Harvey Langi, from President Mark Cusick, who along with his wife Stephanie, lead the Florida Tampa Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They will fly home to Salt Lake City Tuesday morning after visiting some of the places and people who helped shape Elder Langi's two-year mission.
On Wednesday morning, the former all-american high school player out of Bingham and University of Utah sophomore is expected to visit BYU coaches in Provo to arrange a transfer to the school, where he hopes to suit up for the Cougars this fall. On Thursday, Bronco Mendenhall returns from vacation and is expected to meet with Langi at 10 a.m. in the head coach's office.
Elder Langi called me on his mother's cellphone this afternoon to tell me it's a decision he made on his own, over time, while on his mission.
"I love and appreciate the University of Utah, but this isn't about them, or their players, coaches, school colors, uniforms or who has the best business school. This is about how I've evolved and changed as a person on my mission. I know lots of guys returned to the U. from missions and excelled. Over a period of time, I felt that for me, at this stage of my life, I feel like BYU's Honor Code is something I can embrace. There are higher expectations there that I wasn't prepared or willing or able to live before my mission, but now going home, I want to live it. I'm a different person.
“I expect Utah fans may want to spit on me or whatever, but that's OK. What matters to me is what I can become in 10, 20, 30 years from now. I'm a work in progress. I believe BYU will offer me ways to grow as a person that may not happen at Utah or anywhere else. It's different for everybody. I saw guys change at Utah after missions, so I suppose it can happen anywhere. But for me personally, I feel BYU will help me reach my goals — I'm not even talking about football. This may seem silly or a small thing, but before my mission, I always wore my hair long. I look forward to standards that will require me to be clean-shaven and wear my hair short. I know I can do that at Utah, and plenty of guys do. I don't know how to explain it, but I want to be where others all live by those same expectations."
Langi's lofty dreams may simply be that, if Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has his way. I spoke to Whittingham on the phone as he vacations in Hawaii with his family. He flatly refuses to release Langi from his scholarship.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's a Ute," he told me. "I'm not releasing him."
BYU will counter that because Langi graduated early from Bingham and enrolled at the U. in January. His Letter of Intent was either never signed or never filed, therefore Langi isn't bound contractually to return to the U. BYU believes such a loophole essentially makes Langi a free agent and fair game.
Of course, fingers will be pointed and accusations hurled at Langi's mission president, Mark Cusick — did he "recruit" Langi to BYU?
"I'm actually a Utah grad," President Cusick told me. "I actually don't care if he goes to BYU, Utah or Stanford. As Elder Langi's mission president, I don't even care if he plays football. All I care about is that he take advantage of his education, lives the gospel, marries in the temple, serves in the church and lives an honorable life."
But it was President Cusick who made overtures to BYU, at Elder Langi's behest. According to President Cusick, a few months ago during a scheduled interview, they discussed future plans, which the mission president does with all of his missionaries as their service winds down. He requires that they produce a written document of goals and a life plan, which they're expected to share with their stake president and home bishop.
"Elder Langi asked me if I would help pave the way for a transfer by making some calls," Cusick said. "Frankly, it isn't that unusual for mission presidents to help missionaries with applications, transcripts, ecclesiastic endorsements and yes, even transfers."
President Cusick offered a glimpse into who Elder Langi has become.
"He's a thoroughbred. But you know, thoroughbreds will run you over and go over the fence if left to their own devices. To his credit, Elder Langi initially struggled, but he evolved and became a better missionary every month through his mission. He had a chance to go home a transfer early to enroll in summer school, but he opted to stay and return with his group. He is incredibly humble. I don't think he told any of his companions he was a college athlete.
"His current companion told me he encouraged Elder Langi to try out at BYU or Utah because he was so fit and big, he thought he might earn a scholarship. Elder Langi didn't say a word. His companion's only complaint was that Elder Langi dragged him to a gym every morning at 5 a.m. and he also insisted on having their 9:30 p.m. planning meeting outside where he jumped rope for a half hour while they assessed their day and planned their next day. Apparently, Elder Langi's poor companion was eaten alive by mosquitoes as a result."
Utah does have a trump card: Kalesita Langi.
She wants her son to remain at Utah. "We're a Ute family. We love Coach Whit. We love the U.," she told me. "Utah has been our family and they have been so good to Harvey and to us. If he wants to transfer, I'd rather he transfer to Stanford. I just can't get used to the idea of Harvey wearing blue and playing for BYU."
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