PROVO — BYU’s football program drew widespread national attention on National Letter of Intent Day 2015 by signing a recruit that nobody had ever heard of — and happened to be listed at 6-foot-7, 410 pounds.
That recruit, Motekiai (Mo) Langi, hailed from Liahona, Tonga, and had never played football before. On top of that, he was departing for a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Then-Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall offered Langi a scholarship just 15 minutes after meeting him just a little more than a week before Signing Day.
After his two-year mission to Arizona, Langi joined the BYU football program in 2017 and played on special teams that season, both the field goal kick and block units. During fall camp in 2017, a video of Langi making a one-armed tackle went viral.
Then he dropped about 100 pounds before missing the entire 2018 campaign due to a neck injury and subsequent surgery.
On Wednesday, Langi announced via Instagram that his football career is over for health reasons.
“It sucks. But it’s the best decision,” the soft-spoken Langi told the Deseret News Thursday. “I tried coming back after neck surgery and I re-injured my neck again from lifting (weights). There wasn’t any contact, so it’s a sign. I don’t like the alternative of playing and having the possibility of not being able to walk again.”
While Langi’s hopes of making a big impact on BYU football weren’t fulfilled, he will continue as a student at the school. He is grateful for the opportunity to be at BYU and get an education. And it was here that Langi met the woman who became his wife. The couple were married in January.
“Football was great. I loved it. I had goals for football but it didn’t work out,” Langi said. “Last year, I learned the most about the game and I got into the best shape I've been in. Then in fall camp, I got hurt. Now, I’m trying to get back to where I was last year, health-wise and body-wise. I found my wife here so that’s the best thing I got out of it. My school is paid for and I’ll get a degree from it, too.”
On Signing Day 2015, Mendenhall, who is now the head coach at Virginia, said of the giant Langi, “I shook his hand and his hand went almost up to my elbow."
Mendenhall then regaled the media about the possibilities of a 6-7, 410-pound behemoth on the defensive line.
“We’re going to play him at nose tackle first. We normally require a two-gap player that can be big enough handle both A gaps,” he said. “He might be a three-gap player. Maybe we’ll just have him lay sideways off the snap and block the whole thing out. There must be some way he can do something. … He’s sincere, hardworking and humble. What an adventure. Why not?"
When BYU sent out information about Langi on social media on Signing Day, there were those who thought it was some sort of hoax. “For a few hours, Langi was the Bigfoot of football Twitter,” Sports Illustrated wrote about that day.
In 2013, Mendenhall had sent defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi on a recruiting trip to Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand. Kaufusi watched Langi, who was a rugby player, participate in a pickup game of basketball.
“Steve thought he was light on his feet and could play football,” Mendenhall said. “Everyone right now is booking flights (to the Pacific Islands), I’m sure. Or they think I’m crazy. One of those two.”
Langi said Thursday his teammates and coaches are supportive of his decision to retire from football.16 comments on this story
“They understand. Some of the guys that I’m close with, guys on the D-line, we talked about it,” he said. “I talked to (defensive coordinator Ilaisa) Tuiaki and (head coach Kalani) Sitake and it was great. They were sad it didn’t work out but they said it was the smartest thing to do. Now the main thing is my education and my health. I’ve got to lose the weight."
While Langi won't be playing football anymore, he plans to stay close to the program.
"I’m still a Cougar," he said. "I’ll always support the boys.”