Mingo does whatever is asked for LSU
It seems people are always trying to talk Barkevious Mingo into doing something different.
And, he said with a smile, “It always seems to work out.”
Mingo has grudgingly accepted a couple of pivotal changes in his athletic career, and now he’s one of the top defensive players in the country for No. 4 LSU.
There were the classmates, teachers, coaches and administrators at West Monroe High School who doggedly tried to convince a reluctant Mingo to add football to an athletic résumé that already included basketball and track and field.
He was already pushing his current 6-foot-5 frame and was a slim 200 pounds with exceptional speed and quickness.
“They tried, but I resisted,” Mingo said. “It was everybody — the assistant principal, some players that ran track and played basketball, some of those coaches that also coached football. They were all after me.
“I got recruited in my own high school to play football.”
Finally, in the spring of Mingo’s sophomore season, James Remedies — the school’s assistant principal, who had watched Mingo play power forward and center on the basketball team and run the 200 and 400 meters and compete in the triple jump — found the right sales pitch.
“He was such a fierce, fierce competitor,” Remedies recalled. “I loved the way he played. I looked at the way he competed and thought he should be on a football field.
“I told him, ‘6-foot-5 basketball players are a dime a dozen, but linebackers and defensive ends that can run like you are hard to come by.’ ”
As Mingo recalled: “That got my attention. It worked out. They have a good eye.”
Mingo was an all-state linebacker as a junior and a senior and quickly emerged as a four-star recruit. He signed with LSU as a linebacker, but while he was redshirting during his first season, the Tigers coaches — like the folks at West Monroe — had another idea. They moved him to defensive end.
“At first, I wasn’t too happy,” Mingo said, “but it’s kind of grown on me.”
Mingo, who has grown into a 240-pound body, has also grown on NFL scouts, who project him to be among the first handful of players chosen in the NFL draft whether he declares early after this season or plays his senior year before going pro. And he’s still developing.
“I think he’s a ways away from the being the best that he can be,” LSU coach Les Miles said, “and I think he’s plenty good.”
Tigers tackle Josh Dworaczyk said when he lines up against Mingo in practice, it’s hard not to look at him in his three-point stance and not remember that he used to come out of a similar stance as a sprinter.
“He looks like he’s in the box, and you kind of want to kick back faster and (false start) almost,” Dworaczyk. “For me, it’s like, ‘Sit in there, sit in there, sit in there, and go.’ You’ve got to shoot out like a rocket.”
Mingo’s teammates marvel at how he’s one of the fastest players on the team despite being one of the biggest.
“People don’t realize how fast he is,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “The guy is like ridiculous. The dude has unreal ability.”
Different players have different Mingo highlights that are their favorites. The one cited most frequently came against Oregon in the season opener last year. The Ducks handed the ball to speedy halfback LeMichael James, who’s now with the San Francisco 49ers, on a sweep left — away from Mingo’s side.
Mingo ran him down and tackled him behind the line of scrimmage.
“I swear, he was out of the play,” Minter said, “and all of a sudden, all you see is No. 49 closing ground. After the play, James had a look on his face like, ‘Did this dude just really catch me? Good job.’ ”
A couple of plays in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia last season also stand out.
Fellow end Lavar Edwards recalled a play in which Mingo faked inside, then went around the tackle to force Aaron Murray into an incomplete pass.
“By the time the tackle put his hand up, Mingo was past him,” Edwards said. “It was the best pass-rushing move I’ve ever seen at any level.”
End Sam Montgomery, who says he plays Batman to Mingo’s Robin, remembers a different play from the SEC title game.
“Mingo swoops in and the tackle doesn’t even touch him,” Montgomery said. “The tackle spins in a circle and just falls on his back. It was awful. Mingo has special ability with that speed off the edge.”
But don’t think Mingo just gets by on his exceptional quickness. He got Dworaczyk’s attention during preseason camp with the way he practiced. Dworaczyk said Mingo would use his speed against him in the morning practice so that by the time the afternoon practice came, Dworaczyk would kick back so fast that Mingo had him set up for an inside move.
“It’s where he’s at in his game, the level he’s trying to play at and the expectations that he has for himself,” Dworaczyk said. “I think he knows that he has to continue to improve. He’s one of those guys where it’s always a competition.
“He loves that pass rush. He loves to be able to work one thing and get better and he puts it in his pocket and knows he can do that and then the next day he’s going to work on something else. It challenges you as a tackle certainly, and it challenges guys on Saturdays.”
Defensive tackle Bennie Logan said when the players watch film of practice, Mingo always stands out.
“Coach emphasizes effort in practice, and Mingo is the guy that sets the tone in practice,” Logan said. “He’s always running to the ball. We turn on film and he’s the first one sprinting to the ball. That says a lot. I’m not saying we aren’t hungry for it, but he just sets himself aside from everybody else with his effort.”
Montgomery is more of an attention-getter in games because of his boisterous style, whereas Mingo is more subdued in his approach.
“He’s the polar opposite of Sam,” Montgomery said, invoking the third person. “I’m the crazy man. He’s the warrior focused on a task.”
Logan said Mingo is more dangerous than Montgomery as a practical joker because he is so low-key. Logan said he got suspicious one day recently when he noticed Mingo “peeping around the corner” in the locker room as Logan was about to put on his shoes.
Logan’s suspicion was well founded when he discovered Mingo had put ultrasound jell in his shoes.
“Mingo is a character,” Logan said. “He’s a funny guy. He loves playing jokes on me. He keeps you laughing and guessing what he’s going to do next.”
Teammates said the Mingo they see on the field and the one they see off the field have nothing in common.
“The guy plays around all the time, but when it comes time for him to be serious, he’s a completely different person,” Minter said. “It’s like he has two different personalities. He’s probably the nicest guy you will ever meet, but on the field, if you’re his opponent, you’re going to feel him.
“When he’s in the game, he’s a totally different guy. You know that saying, ‘Speak softly but carry a big stick’? He’s the epitome of that. He doesn’t say a word. He just plays his best and comes back to the sideline just laughing and joking like he always does.”
Remedies whose son Josh was Mingo’s teammate at West Monroe and rooms with him at LSU, reflected on Mingo’s evolution from basketball player to track and field athlete to football star.
“When you’re running the 400 meters, you can’t hide behind anybody,” Remedies said. “It’s just you and the track. When he ran the 400 it was like watching a thoroughbred.
“I look back on everything we felt he was capable of doing and he has done it all. We were fortunate to get him to play football.”
Mingo and LSU feel pretty good about the whole deal, too.