Last week, BYU announced that the dearly loved Mo Langi would no longer be pursuing his football career, setting off the wave of reaction that typically comes with any news released from the athletic department.
There were the all-knowing Twitter seers who came out of the woodwork, brandishing their “I told you so” messages, right in lockstep with the apologetics that assured us under other specific circumstances Mo Langi’s career would have been a major success. There are other messages, but on the majority, fans will look back on Mo’s time at the Y and see it as a failure. The mountain of man that was presented to us on National Signing Day in 2015 never lived up to the hype and will leave the game behind without much fanfare.
Of course Mo’s inability to transform himself from a big island boy to a collegiate athlete is less about his physical shortcomings and more a statement on just how hard it is to play football at this level. By all accounts, Langi had all of the measurables that football coaches talk about and he passed the “eye test” when he visited with Bronco Mendenhall. Then again, assuming every large, athletic man will be a good football player is like assuming every girl over six feet tall would want to play basketball or volleyball.
Before we were ever introduced to Mo Langi, we were spoiled by the Ziggy Ansah experience. Their stories follow many parallels with both of them being from foreign lands that didn’t teach them anything about American Football. Ziggy, however, had to work his way onto the football team after falling short in his dream to play basketball. Over time, his lack of understanding gave way to his special athletic aptitude and now he makes millions of dollars at the highest level of the game.
When Mo Langi entered the picture we saw the best case scenario of what could happen to a diamond in the rough. We didn’t exactly prepare expectations with the understanding of what Mo eventually faced, an uphill battle to reshape his body and do so without any major injuries. Instagram side-by-side photos create an unrealistic impression of the ease of a transformation but getting into football playing shape is more than just losing weight. It’s losing fat, retaining muscle, improving endurance, increasing muscle elasticity and mastering balance. Playing defensive or offensive line doesn’t only require size and strength but the intestinal fortitude to endue an intense collision on every single play.
By all accounts he did everything he could to make it onto the field. After returning home from his mission he hit the weight room and survived summer workouts. He received the meme treatment during fall camp, where he put a football helmet on for the first time and it looked like it was seven sizes too small. Coaches did their best to quell the hype during media sessions but we kept asking how Mo was progressing. Then when the first game of the season came around, Langi had been chosen to carry out the American flag onto the field during the pregame ceremonies.
For the game itself, Mo actually made it onto the field on a few special teams plays, specifically the field goal unit. After the first couple of games he quietly went back to his spot on the bench and wasn’t heard from for the rest of the season. There was mention of an injury that put him out for a chunk of the 2017 season and it seemed to carry over in to 2018, where he never put on a game uniform.
Mo cited a surgery and recurring neck injury as for the reasons he was going to step away and that alone should be a good enough reason to retire. He gave it his best shot and he wasn’t going to risk a life-long ailment for a game.
People might look back on his career as another washed out recruit but for Mo it was probably far from a failure. He got to come to BYU on a scholarship and play, albeit for a very short time, at the highest level of collegiate football. Heck, he probably was on the field for more snaps than Rudy.
The only question now is when will we see his story told on the big screen?