SALT LAKE CITY — Recently voted the 12th-best rivalry in college football, the BYU and Utah rivalry belongs in a separate category apart from the 11 ranked higher.
Name a rivalry that can grow even more intense and hated when in it is on a sabbatical. Don’t waste your time trying to find an example.
The two football programs are back at each other in the case of Harvey Langi, who played at Utah as a freshman in 2011 and now reportedly wants to transfer to BYU after completing his LDS Church mission. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham aren’t likely to dine together any time soon.
In a Deseret News story written by former BYU star and Philadelphia broadcaster Vai Sikahema, Langi said BYU's Honor Code appeals to him more now than when he came out of Bingham High. For some, the interpretation is it’s easier to follow his religion at BYU than at Utah.
“I’m a work in progress,” he said in the story. “I believe BYU will offer me ways to grow as a person that may not happen at Utah or anywhere else. 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.”
He's not interested in releasing him. I wouldn't be either if I was the coach. I wouldn't want to set a precedent of releasing players just because they went on missions.
Highly recruited in high school, Langi turned down several big-name schools to stay in state. He might not have been best suited for BYU at that time but has matured in recent years.
His changed ways led to the decision two years ago to serve a mission.
“When he decided to go on a mission I was as shocked as anybody,” said Bingham High coach Dave Peck.
Whether he prefers to be in the BYU environment or is opposed to changing positions – Utah intended to move him from running back to defensive line – Langi apparently wants to head south.
“I really don’t think this has anything to do with football,” Peck said.
Either way, it won’t sit well with the Utes. Whittingham, who has supported two sons on church missions, has gone to great lengths to make his program LDS friendly. The coaching staff, several of which are LDS, bristle at the thought process that Mormon players should go to BYU.
Whittingham doesn’t want to let Langi go without a fight.
“He’s not interested in releasing him,” Sikahema said during an interview with DJ and PK on The Zone Sports Network. “I wouldn’t be either if I was the coach. I wouldn’t want to set a precedent of releasing players just because they went on missions.”
No argument here.
Whittingham can’t let any player transfer to Utah without repercussion, thereby establishing a revolving-door policy. Doing so sends the message that future returned missionaries could leave at their own discretion, even to the detriment to Utah’s program.
Sikahema said Langi is set to meet this week with Mendenhall and could enroll immediately in summer school. But there could be a dispute between Utah and BYU regarding the player’s status that could lead to Langi being ineligible this season.
And so it goes between the Utes and the Cougars. Remember, these are two coaches who didn’t participate in the same charity golf tournament last month.
Only a fool would think the two-year hiatus from playing each other beginning this season is going to diminish the hard feelings. A win over Michigan, a game in which the Utes cited as the reason not to play BYU the next two years, won’t come close to the jubilance Utah would feel by once again beating the Cougars.
No way Ute fans would storm the field three separate times if their team beats Michigan at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2015 like they did in the against BYU two years ago when the game ended bizarre fashion. And no way this rivalry is only No. 12 in college football, as cited by College Football 24/7 writer Mike Huguenin.
Now that BYU is an independent in football, it’s easier to attract transfers. Conferences typically enforce a rule that forces athletes to forfeit a year of eligibility to transfer within the same conference.
Mendenhall has stated that BYU doesn’t recruit active missionaries, but he’s not opposed to taking calls from prospective transfers. Maybe now the phone will ring more often.