The Harvey Langi who left for Tampa, Florida, is not the same Harvey Langi who returned to Salt Lake International Airport on Tuesday.
This, at least, according to his LDS mission president for the past year, Mark Cusick.
Cusick declined Tuesday — per Langi family wishes, he said — to comment on his role in contacting Utah and BYU coaches on Langi’s behalf, but said that the change that occurs for missionaries is “absolutely incalculable.”
“People who know [Harvey], they’ll see that pretty quick,” he said.
It may make the distinction easier if New Harvey dons royal blue instead of crimson. The Salt Lake Tribune learned Tuesday that Langi did not sign a national letter of intent while at the U., due to his being an early enrollee in January 2011. He thus becomes an unrestricted student-athlete because NLIs are a component of so-called “Riley Nelson rule” that governs recruitment of LDS missionaries who first attended another school. Multiple exceptions, including a two-year nonparticipation exception, could allow Langi to return to the field at another school this season.
The Deseret News was first to report Monday that Langi is mulling a transfer from Utah to BYU. Langi’s mother, Kalesita, had not read the report and declined comment while visiting Langi in Tampa on Monday, and she did not respond to another request for comment. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is vacationing in Hawaii and has not been available.
A record-setting back at Bingham, Langi chose Utah over USC at the Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. But Bingham coach Dave Peck said Tuesday that, contrary to popular belief, BYU wasn’t out of the question even in the moments leading up to Langi’s choice.
Peck was nonetheless surprised when Langi decided to go on his mission after a season at the U. in which he totaled 70 yards on 13 carries. Langi has always been an outstanding student, Peck said, but his grades slipped slightly in the latter half of high school, and he was suspended for a 5A playoff game in October 2010 for trespassing and smoking marijuana.
“I think that when he made the decision to go on a mission, I think that’s when his life started to change a little bit,” Peck said.
Cusick seconds that.
“I didn’t know him before his mission, but from what I’ve seen, he’s grown tremendously,” he said. “His devotion to his savior, his level of service to those around him, his ability to work well with companions ... and his dedication to being obedient have improved, essentially, every month.”
Cusick said Langi never told his companions that he was a football player, and when Langi approached him with a 20-year life plan he dubbed “From now until 2034 and eternity,” the transfer to BYU “really didn’t involve football.”
It is Cusick’s role, he said, to support his missionaries while they serve others. Cusick acknowledges that efforts to secure a transfer for Langi were somewhat atypical, but not untoward. LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones explained in a statement Tuesday that “Mission presidents are encouraged to help elders and sisters successfully transition to life after their missions.”
Cusick said he has no allegiance to BYU and that he didn’t try to sway Langi.
He attended Utah after high school — although he did not graduate from the U. His son, Andrew, was a walk-on wideout at BYU in 2010 after being spotted working out with BYU’s basketball team, but Cusick says he’s “never given a dollar” to BYU and that “If somebody would’ve sat by me at a BYU-Utah football game, they would have seen me cheer for the Utes.”
Former Utah tight end Jake Murphy suspects Langi simply changed his mind.
Murphy, who originally committed to BYU out of American Fork High School, told The Tribune Tuesday that he understands that fans may see a conspiracy lurking behind every corner, but thinks it’s unlikely that BYU’s program played any role in Langi’s decision to transfer.
“The player usually always initiates contact with the other school,” he said.
In Murphy’s case, he said, he wanted to attend the U. after his mission in Australia to be near his brother — not because, as scuttlebutt had it, there were too many other tight ends at BYU.
“I’d be willing to bet that a lot of these guys just looked at the situation ... and feel like the school that they’re going to now is better for them at this point in their life.”
Utah coaches told The Tribune earlier this summer that Langi would be moved to defensive end after returning from his mission.