How Vysen Lang went from ‘lazy’ college kid to Pike Road leader
Shortly after being hired in May, Pike Road trainer Ed Rigby walked into the weight room to meet his new team and noticed one player, literally and figuratively, towering over the rest.
Vysen Lang stood up and faced his teammates. “One voice, one voice,” the 6-foot-5, 330-pound offensive lineman chimed in, ushering in Rigby’s speech.
The room became silent.
“That was my first impression: leadership,” Rigby said. “He talks, people listen.”
We could look at Lang now – a three-star left tackle; a four-year-old starter in one of football’s most critical positions, the No. 26 rookie at Alabama State for the Class of 2023 and the No. 5 in the first-ever Montgomery Advertiser Fab Five — and suppose that he has always been the leader he is today.
This is not the case.
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“A Friendly Green Giant”
While Lang has always had the right physical attributes for football, he wasn’t as interested at first. His parents, Victor and Angela, wanted him in a structured activity, but Vysen preferred to read, play with toy cars or run with his three older brothers.
Vysen remembers how his mother used to yell at him. “Get up,” Angela would say. “You can’t be this big and be lazy.”
“I didn’t want to hit anyone,” Lang said. “I was a gentle green giant.”
Things came to a head in seventh grade, when Lang was expelled from the Pike Road middle school team. As he recalls, his attitude was bad: he didn’t want to push himself and didn’t work well with his teammates. When his parents picked him up, they usually saw him do laps around the grounds as punishment.
Vysen now thinks getting kicked out of the team was one of the best things that ever happened to him.
Lang found a home with a city league team, the Montgomery Raiders, coached by Darryl “Quake” Whetstone. Whetstone was an All-State linebacker at Sidney Lanier in 1983 and had no patience for the antics that once defined Lang.
“It was just more of a personal interest for him,” Victor said. “(Vysen) believed the coach really wanted him to improve.”
At Pike Road, Lang didn’t always want to go all out, fearing injury to his teammates. With the Raiders, he was up against kids his size — like James Smith, now the No. 13 rookie in the Class of 2023. The Raiders, Vysen said, “forced me to be tough.”
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Lang returned to Pike Road the following year with a whole new mindset. He knew what his reputation was and wasn’t about to give his coaches a reason to bolster it. More than that, his love for football had grown tremendously.
“Once he got interested, he just had this natural work ethic about it,” Angela said. “…Growing up with his father and grandfather, that was an expectation. If you want to do it, do it right.”
Lang became a college starter midway through his eighth-grade season and started every game as a rookie. After that season, he received his first offer, from Georgia Tech. He has since received nearly 30 more.
When Lang went for it, his only thought was “don’t mess up.” He wanted to impress his upper-class teammates and prove himself to his coaches.
These worries are a thing of the past. Now his goal isn’t just not to mess up. It’s “play like a four star. Play like Vysen Lang”.
“I just gained confidence,” Lang said. “…I can’t just lead someone 2 meters. I have to lead someone 10, 15 meters and the pancake.”
“He…could be president”
Last season, Lang went sack-free in 14 games. He paved the way for Pike Road to rush for over 300 yards per game, go undefeated, and win the Class 5A state title.
But when he learned that his teammates had voted him the best lineman for the Patriots, he asked that the award be given to a senior in his place.
“That’s exactly the kind of kid he is,” Angela said. “He watches over everyone.”
When Lang is done with his drills during practice, he’ll join the wide receivers and running backs to practice footwork. Rigby says Lang is constantly calling the trainers to ask if he can get extra lifts in the weight room. Off the field, he volunteers to read to elementary school students.
“Vysen has that ‘it’ factor,” Pike Road offensive line coach Mike Atkins said.
Rigby puts it another way: “He’s the guy who could one day be President of the United States.”
One person you won’t find praising Lang’s leadership skills is Lang himself. It’s “cheesy,” he says, to draw attention to it – leaders are just doing what they’re supposed to.
Lang’s current top six includes Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Texas. With a commitment on the horizon – likely late in the season or even on signing day – he has his sights set on a far different goal than being commander-in-chief.
“I want to retire my mother as soon as possible,” Lang said. “With everything my parents do for me, I don’t like to hear them talk about money and stuff. … I do all the hard work now, just so I can say, ‘I’m just going to take care of you.’ Go sit down, be lazy, sit down with your feet up, have a coke and let me do all the work.”
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at email@example.com, by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.