HOUSTON — Buried in the depth chart and searching for answers, Harvey Langi turned to his faith.
Langi, who signed with the Patriots on April 29 after going undrafted, was a record-setting running back at Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah. He led his team to two 5A state championships before being named a 2010 Army All-American.
He had only 13 carries during his freshman year at Utah, while confronting many of the distractions college freshmen face.
“I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be, the type of person on and off the field,” Langi said.
He grew up in the Mormon Church, where members can volunteer to serve on a two-year mission starting at the age of 18. Just as he hoped, his two-year mission in Tampa, Fla., would change his life, refining his faith and redirecting his path to his ultimate goal of playing in the NFL.
“[The mission] for sure changed me,” Langi said. “I came back home within a year and a half, met my wife, married her two years after coming back from my mission. I just knew what I wanted to be, knew what I wanted to do. Every day I am working to keep accomplishing that.”
Five years before he would line up across from Tom Brady in practice, Langi cut down trees and spent hours talking to homeless people under highway overpasses.
During his mission, Langi had to change apartments and pair with new companions every three months. None of his companions were former All-Americans with visions of playing in the NFL, but they were prodded to train like one.
Each missionary is obligated to spend 30 minutes exercising per day during the mission. Langi extended his workouts an extra hour. All activities have to be done with your companion, so Langi woke up his roommate to work out from 5:30 to 6 every morning.
As the two-time All-State running back ran the stairs outside, his companion slouched on a chair, tired and bleary-eyed.
Away from the workouts, Langi blended in with the other missionaries. He sported a white shirt, dark tie, slacks, and shoes. From 9 a.m to about 10 p.m., Langi was out in the community, ringing doorbells and visiting local parks. Whenever he saw kids playing basketball, Langi told them if he won in a game of one-on-one, they had to listen to a lesson.
He taught a lot of lessons.
“Every single day, out serving others and preaching the Gospel, it put a lot of things in perspective for me, and opened my eyes to see the bigger picture of what I wanted in the future,” Langi said.
With no phone, he had virtually no social life. Langi was only allowed to talk to his family on Christmas and Mother’s Day, which he used to tell his parents about a decision he had been mulling: switching positions from running back to linebacker. He realized none of the great Polynesian NFL players, from Junior Seau to Troy Polamalu, were running backs.
So Langi added 20 pounds of muscle before returning home. Revitalized and ready for a change, he transferred to Brigham Young University, where he could immerse himself in the Mormon Church and redefine himself as a football player.
“When he came back, we could really see the change in him,’’ said his father, Sam. “He was totally a different person. He had already committed himself to [transferring].”
Strapping on the pads for the first time in more than two years, Langi slowly adjusted to his new defensive role. He started only one game his sophomore year. As he entered his junior season, he focused on harnessing his aggression while learning the playbook’s intricacies.
Finally, it clicked. Langi started at middle linebacker all 11 games in his junior season, finishing second on the team with 68 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions.
Entering his senior year, Langi, a Butkus Award watch list nominee, was asked to play all over the field. The BYU coaches deployed him primarily at defensive end, where he used his athleticism to disrupt opposing backfields. He was also moved to middle linebacker, outside linebacker, and even occasionally at his natural position, running back. He produced 57 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and two sacks.
Langi notched a career-best 16 tackles in the Poinsettia Bowl, his final game at BYU. Five weeks later, he sealed a Senior Bowl win with an interception in the end zone.
Langi hoped his hard work would culminate in an unforgettable draft night. He crowded around the television in his home in South Jordan, alongside his family and wife’s family.
But his name was never called.
“His versatility is why he didn’t get drafted,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake, who also helped recruit Langi to Utah. “He has kind of done everything but never really majored in one. But he is happy to help the team out any way he could, even if that hurt his draft status. He would clean up the locker room if he could.”
Shortly after the draft, the Patriots called. It didn’t take long for Langi to agree to terms with the team, which paid Langi like a mid-round draft pick. Langi signed for $115,o00 guaranteed, making him one of the highest-paid undrafted free agents of the 2017 class.
Throughout camp, the Patriots have deployed the 6-foot-2-inch, 252-pound Langi in multiple spots, just as BYU did. He has taken some first-team repetitions at defensive end after Rob Ninkovich announced his retirement. And with recent reports of third-round pick Derek Rivers’s possible season-ending knee injury, Langi may be in line for more work on the edge.
“You’ve seen him at different spots,” coach Bill Belichick said less than a week into camp. “We’re looking at him in different roles.”
He has impressed throughout training camp, showcasing the explosiveness and strength that originally caught the Patriots’ notice. But Langi said he is nowhere near where he wants to be, focusing on keeping his head down and learning the playbook.
While he has a solid chance to make the 53-man roster, Langi knows how quickly things can change. He maintains a unique perspective as a 24-year-old rookie.
“Every single day, I think about my mission,” Langi said. “I feel like I have been blessed, and will keep feeling blessed if I keep doing the things I know are correct.”