Utah Utes running back Harvey Langi may have found that the grass is not always greener on the other side. In his case, the FieldTurf at Rice-Eccles Stadium on which his Utes play in the mighty Pac-12 Conference may not be as sacred as natural grass at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo--where the independent BYU Cougars do battle.
Alone, those words taste like razor blades and vinegar going down a Utah fan’s throat. But, those were the very words he uttered in a Deseret News article on Monday, July 7 to former BYU Cougar, NFL great and guest columnist Vai Sikahema--just hours after Langi had completed his LDS mission to Tampa, Florida and was headed back to Utah.
The Utes, meanwhile, may have been caught off-guard. They are expecting Langi to fulfill the scholarship they used on him and though Langi is far down the team's depth chart--there just isn’t a timetable for his return as a running back.
Not being wanted--or being placed on the proverbial back burner--has to be frustrating for Langi, someone that Mark Cusick, his own mission president said was a “thoroughbred” after getting to know him for two years in the mission field.
Keep in mind that Cusick didn’t go to BYU--he went to Utah, and so any words that Utah fans use to describe Cusick as a turn-coat, Uncle Tom or any of the other more verbose four-letter words will ring hollow.
"He's a thoroughbred. But you know, thoroughbreds will run you over and go over the fence if left to their own devices,“ Cusick said in the Deseret News article on Monday. “To his credit, Elder Langi initially struggled, but he evolved and became a better missionary every month through his mission.”
Langi‘s words in that article were just as shocking, to say the least--and will be even more so to Ute fans who believed he would be like any other Ute missionary who would take two years away from football--and return raring to get back to work. And he does--it's just not with a football.
But Cusick is right in his own way; Langi is not like other Ute backup running backs who may never see the field--his best intentions aside. Langi has always been, and will always be--even in his own mind and if that’s all that ever comes of it--a superstar running back. He doesn't want to be a defensive player, or a role player.
Even with the Utes’ crowded backfield being the minefield that it is right now, Langi has pride. He has not yet come to terms with the fact that his career at Utah has not--and probably will never be--all that he and others in this state wanted it to be. Langi wants to be the best he can be, not only as a player but as a person now--and football at the moment appears to be second. Nothing has ever come easy for either Langi or for his family--and maybe he is beginning to realize that.
“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,” Langi said in the article. “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.”
In a way, whether you’re a Ute fan or a BYU fan, it’s a victory for Langi and that’s what matters most, right? Sure, it’s also a slap in the face towards any Utah fan who believes their school is the best--but it’s also a reality check for those players who think that playing in the almighty Pac-12 is the end-all-be-all.
Think about the struggles Langi has endured at Utah trying to crack the starting lineup, and at Bingham High School after having had some off-the-field issues. You can even go back to when as a Ute Conference player in Copper Hills’ youth football program, Langi's family changed addresses in order to be inside Bingham‘s boundaries--and the finger-pointing that ensued from that.
After doing a Google search on all that, you can forgive Langi for wondering whether he’s made a few mistakes in his career trying to chase the almighty football dream--because other than a few shining moments at Bingham, it’s a dream that has eluded him for some time.
Let’s be clear on one other thing. Langi is about to open a Pandora’s box of comments from long-suffering BYU fans who want nothing more than to stuff all of those teasing words right back into Utah fans faces. The problem is, it isn’t about any of that nonsense. What it’s about, at its very core, is someone who went the wrong way and is desperately, almost apologetically, trying to find his way back.
So when you read the comments from Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham--who himself is probably taking his last breaths as Utah’s pariah--you wonder if all this big, bad BCS action has all gotten to Whit’s head as well.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's a Ute," he told Sikahema. "I'm not releasing him."
You wonder if the real reason Whit is acting this way is because deep down, he thinks Langi is trying to weasel his way out of a bad situation. If Whit releases Langi, then the former Bingham star gets his own way again--just like Langi did when his family up and transferred out of Copper Hills High School boundaries when he was an 8th grader.
But this decision is tricky for Whit, a coach who is probably on his last legs as a thoroughbred. He’s had a good run, busted the BCS and helped get his team to the Pac-12. Even for him, the grass probably seemed less green in the big, bad Pac-12. He’s missed making a bowl game for two years running--and next year at this time, he could be out of a job.
But Whit could do one last good deed in his time at Utah and let this young thoroughbred go. Langi’s had a good run too--but he’s on his last legs at Utah and even he knows it.