By Paul Katsiaounis
Brigham Young University has discovered yet another stud in the most unlikely of places. Deep in the southwest Pacific Ocean lies the small archipelagic nation of Tonga. Although the country has a population of only 100,000, Motekiai Langi probably counts for about a third of that number. Standing at 6 feet 7 inches and weighing in at 410 lbs, Langi is one of the newest members of the BYU football team after signing day, 2015. However, there is something that separates Motekiai from all of the other recruits, and it’s not just his massive frame. He’s never played football before.
In Tonga, where Langi grew up, there weren’t any organized football teams for him to play for. Instead, he would spend his time playing soccer, rugby, basketball and lifting weights. Langi, however, did attend as many football camps as he could, whenever they came to town. He isn’t the first Tongan to make his way onto the BYU football team – in fact, almost 70 other Tongans have played for the team. Tongans are historically good at American football, too. In 2008, the No. 1 high school football team in the country consisted 20% of Tongans. Football even runs in Motekiai’s blood. In fact, his cousin, Harvey Langi, is a linebacker on BYU. Even with the familial connections, how did coach Bronco Mendenhall find the big guy overseas and thousands of miles away? Some speculate astronauts aboard the ISS spotted him from space, others say it was pure luck. But what really happened?
In 2013, assistant Steve Kaufusi, without much difficulty, spotted the big guy while Langi was playing pickup basketball in Tonga. “He just saw a giant body who’s light on his feet and can change direction and loved working out and training,” Coach Mendenhall said this week in a press conference. The two exchanged contact information and their paths crossed again a year and a half later in Utah — where Langi travelled before carrying out his church mission. However, when Motekiai entered Mendenhall’s office at BYU, he didn’t need much time to seal the deal.
Within 15 minutes, Bronco had already offered the boy a scholarship and a spot on the team. It was love at first sight for him. “When I shook his hand, his hand almost went up to my elbow!” said Mendenhall. “Why not.” When asked in which ways Langi could contribute to the team, he responded quickly with “Nose tackle first. We require a two gap player- big and strong enough for two gaps, but he’s a three gap player.” They might as well just lay him down sideways on the line of scrimmage when the ball snaps! Now, although this story is shocking and wildly unexpected, this isn’t the first time coach Mendenhall has spotted a stud before he’s ever sported football pads. Ziggy Ansah, a Ghanaian born football player, also joined BYU’s team with no prior experience. Starting out by playing soccer and basketball thousands of miles away, he’s now a star on the Detroit Lions. Could Motekiai be the next Ziggy? Only time can tell, but we’ll find out when he suits up next summer.