If James Remedies hadn’t pulled Barkevious Mingo into his office at West Monroe High School to give him a reality check, the tall, skinny kid whose first loves were basketball and track and field would have never discovered his innate ability to dominate the gridiron.
Mingo, whom the Browns picked sixth overall Thursday night in the NFL Draft, didn’t play football until his junior year of high school in West Monroe, La. Coaches, teachers and classmates encouraged Mingo to try it sooner, but he resisted. His mother, Barbara Johnson, didn’t want any of her five sons to step on the field because she feared for their safety.
Remedies, though, was determined to convince Mingo he could maximize his skills if he tried to emulate DeMarcus Ware instead of Kobe Bryant.
“I told him, ‘6-5 post players, those are a dime a dozen,’ ” Remedies, an assistant principal at West Monroe and a former basketball and football coach, said during a recent phone interview. ‘‘ ‘But 6-5 defensive ends and linebackers that can run like you and can do what I think you can do, those are hard to come by.’
“The way he played on the basketball court, he was just a fierce, fierce competitor. He just had that fire and had that passion. If you put the competitiveness and the athleticism together, that’s a good combination. I just saw him as a great pass rusher, coming off the edge with that quickness.”
Mingo bought the pitch. As a sophomore, he decided to participate in the West Monroe football team’s spring exhibition game against Ouachita Parish High School.
“I still wasn’t too convinced I would be good at it,” Mingo said.
He was wrong.
“I had 15 tackles,” said Mingo, who went on to compile 15 sacks in three seasons as a defensive end at Louisiana State University. “I wasn’t supposed to be the starter. The guy in front of me got hurt on the first or second play. I made a lot of plays. Coaches were behind me telling me where to go, but just off instinct, it came easy.”
West Monroe is a prep football powerhouse in Class 5A, the highest classification in Louisiana. The program has played for a state championship in 14 of the past 20 years, winning eight titles, so its coaches are not easily impressed.
But Jerry Arledge, West Monroe’s defensive coordinator since 1992, immediately realized Mingo would become a star.
“He took to football like a duck takes to water, and in a short period of time, he was making plays all over the field,” Arledge said during a recent phone interview. “He had a great, great motor. After that first year of high school football, he made first-team all state.”
As a junior in 2007, Mingo compiled 66 tackles, including six sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He earned first-team all-state honors again as a senior, tallying 59 tackles, including seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss, to go along with four forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.
“When I started playing football, I just got it quickly,” Mingo said. “After the first year, [I was] getting some [scholarship] offers. Then I knew that I could hopefully one day make the jump to the NFL. The success I had late is surreal.”
Mingo’s meteoric rise isn’t quite on par with the one Brigham Young defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah has experienced. Ansah, a Ghana native, played only three seasons of football before the Detroit Lions selected him fifth overall, one slot ahead of Mingo, on Thursday.
Still, the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Mingo has played only five seasons of football, two at West Monroe and three at LSU, where he redshirted as a freshman. Most NFL players have been entrenched in the sport since they were young children.
“I felt like as soon as we put those pads on him that he could be a tremendous football player, and I’ve never been associated with a success story as great as this one,” Arledge said. “It just blows my mind that a kid that waited until his junior year to get involved with football and to have the success that he’s had, it’s just mind-boggling to me.”
Arledge has been a part of some other good stories, too. Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and free-agent linebacker Bradie James, who played for the Houston Texans last year and the Dallas Cowboys the previous nine seasons, are among the players he coached at West Monroe.
But Mingo’s natural prowess sets him apart.
Once Mingo joined his high school team, Arledge switched West Monroe’s defense from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 simply because he thought Mingo would become an unstoppable force as a pass-rushing outside linebacker, and he didn’t disappoint. Mingo then converted to defensive end at LSU, and now he’s being asked to move to outside linebacker in the 3-4, multifront system of Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Those who witnessed Mingo launch his football career have no doubt he’ll adapt and succeed at the highest level.
“He’s a freak,” Arledge said. “He’s very, very talented. The Good Lord blessed him.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.