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BYU’s big signing day surprise: 410-pound giant from Tonga who has never played football

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Bronco Mendenhall head coach at BYU speaks to media during national signing day Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Sammy Jo Hester)

Bronco Mendenhall head coach at BYU speaks to media during national signing day Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Sammy Jo Hester)

Sammy Jo Hester, AP

PROVO — Going into signing day, everybody knew about BYU’s pipeline of Texas recruits. But almost nobody knew about the 6-foot-7, 410-pound, one-man pipeline from Liahona, Tonga.

As it turned out, Motekiai Langi stole the spotlight Wednesday, as news of his signing went viral on social media due to his enormous size and the fact he’s never played football before.

It's pretty much unheard of — a school signing a player with no highlights, no recruiting service stars, and no experience.

“We’re going to play him at nose tackle first. We normally require a two-gap player that can be big enough to handle both A gaps,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “He might be a three-gap player. Maybe we’ll just have him lay sideways off the snap and block the whole thing out. There must be some way he can do something. It will be fun. He’s sincere, hard-working and humble. What an adventure. Why not?”

Langi was one of 21 players to sign national letters of intent with the Cougars Wednesday. How he got to this point sounds like the script from a Disney movie.

Mendenhall offered Langi a scholarship just 15 minutes after meeting him a little more than a week ago in Provo — just days before Langi entered the Missionary Training Center to prepare for an LDS Church mission to Arizona.

It actually started two years ago, when Mendenhall sent defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi to Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand on a recruiting trip. Kaufusi watched Langi, who is the cousin of Cougar linebacker Harvey Langi, play a pickup game of basketball since they don’t play football in Tonga.

“(Kaufusi) thought he was light on his feet and could play football,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall remembered Kaufusi’s evaluation of Langi, but meeting him made quite an impression.

“If you were to see him, that impact was, it’s not a fat 410 pounds,” Mendenhall said. “A solid-looking, healthy, giant man. I shook his hand and his hand went almost up to my elbow. I thought, ‘How can this guy not be something?’”

At first, Mendenhall had no intention of offering Langi a scholarship but rather was going to invite him to walk on after his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But after 15 minutes, Langi was suddenly part of BYU’s recruiting class.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Mendenhall said. “They were all shocked I offered him a scholarship. I think everybody was.”

A few years ago, Ezekiel Ansah came to BYU as a walk-on from Ghana having never played football, and he ended up being the No. 5 pick overall of the Detroit Lions in the NFL draft.

“Football is a game and it can be learned. I can’t make someone 6-7 and 410 pounds,” Mendenhall said. “I think if I’m any kind of coach at all, and our staff is, there’s got to be something we can teach that guy to do.”

If it works out, maybe more coaching staffs across the country will be traveling to the South Pacific to mine for hidden gems.

“The story’s out. You can’t hide 6-7, 410,” Mendenhall said. “Everyone right now is booking flights, I’m sure. Or they think I’m crazy. One of those two.”

The Cougars also signed six players from Texas, including five from the Dallas area. Receivers coach Guy Holliday has been recruiting that state for the past decade.

“I think that’s a tribute to Coach Holliday and the work he’s put in there,” said Geoff Martzen, BYU’s director of player personnel and on-campus recruiting coordinator. "Knowing Texas plays the best high school football in the country makes it an easy target.”

Asked which player of the 2015 class could make the most immediate impact, Martzen pointed to running back Charles West from Coppell, Texas.

“Charles is a type of athlete we haven’t gotten in a long time,” he said. “He has the potential to be a big-time guy for us really early.”

As for Langi, nobody knows how his story will play out. There's only one thing anybody knows for sure about him — he's one big recruit.