Commitment Tests Mangum's Faith

CHANDLER, Ariz. - Kurt Mangum admits his faith was tested in the recruiting process, but it never wavered. His belief in himself, coupled with his belief in the man above, allowed him to truly enjoy the conversation he had with Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham Wednesday afternoon.

It was one of those moments where you could say a minute felt like an hour and not have it come off as a cliche. From one time zone to the next, a deal was struck between coach and player, one that had played itself out in Mangum's mind ever since he knew about Tyrone Willingham.

"Kurt, it's a great day," Willingham said. "It's 2:48 and I'm officially offering you a scholarship and I want you to be a Husky."

"Coach, it's 3:49 my time," Mangum replied. "And at 3:49 on the 23rd of January, you have my commitment to be a Husky."

So simple, so gratifying for so many people on so many levels - including the coaches, trainers, family members that have been there to support Mangum's quest to play Division-1 football - a journey that has seen him go to four high schools in four years. The last trip was the hardest - moving from St. Mary's High School in Orchard Lake, Mich. to the suburbs of Phoenix.

"I got accustomed to playing in a big program," Mangum said of his time in Michigan. St. Mary's has put out a bounty of Big-12 talent over the years - Malcolm Arrington (Northwestern), Anthony Bowman (Iowa), Aaron Gant (Ohio State), Chris McLaurin (Michigan), Jonathan Misch (Michigan State), Justin Siller (Purdue), Morgan Trent (Michigan) and Taurian Washington (Ohio State).

Once Mangum knew he was headed to Arizona, he did the only thing he knew how to do - compete. He went to the U.S. Army All-American Combine in January, earning mention for his strong workout. From there it was on to the Combine at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. It was there he earned top linebacker honors, running a 4.59 40 at 226 pounds. Just a couple of weeks after that combine, Mangum was the top defensive prospect at the Adidas Camp at UCLA.

And the Huskies were paying attention.

This is what Brandon Huffman said about Mangum's performance at the Scout combine:

"Playing out of position at defensive tackle as a junior, Mangum is moving to his more natural linebacker position for his senior season at Basha. On Sunday, he showed that it should be an easy transition. His play was the first thing that caught the attention of the linebacker coaches and he stood out there on the day. He looked good in coverage, not giving up a reception and physically did well. Nursing a leg injury, he decided to still run a forty, though he had not planned to, and ran a 4.59."

In Arizona, Mangum was restless. He played his junior season at Hamilton High School in Chandler, only to transfer to Basha. He would have stayed at Basha if it hadn't been for a state high school transfer rule that would have made him ineligible to stay and play. So off it was to Chandler.

In short, Kurt Mangum had done everything right. He had been to all the combines, all the camps - excelled at all of them. But the AIA's version of Three-Card Monty was wreaking havoc on his recruitment. Schools had a hard time keeping track of the moves. Hamilton, Basha, Chandler.

"It was frustrating," Mangum said, matter-of-factly.

But he persevered. He kept working out. Luke Richardson from Athlete's Performance, a Tempe-based training facility known for working with professionals, took Mangum under his wing. And he kept listening to those closest to him - people like his father Kurt and David Garnett, a family friend who happened to be an All-State player from Illinois that went to Stanford and then played with the Minnesota Vikings.

He also listened to Gale Sayers. Sayers is Mangum's uncle. "He talks to my Dad about stuff, makes sure I stay focused and stay with my game plan and he's been really supportive," Mangum said of his NFL Hall of Fame relative. "He told me great things about Kansas, but also said that if it's not the best fit, go where it suits you."

Richardson is also a KU alum, so the Jayhawks were always part of any recruiting discussion. But Sayers didn't want to be a part of the process - or at least a negative part of it. There would be no nepotism found in the recruitment of Kurt Mangum by anyone.

"He never wanted me to be known as the guy that got something because of who he is or what he knows," Mangum said.

But this much was true; Sayers had met Tyrone Willingham on a few occasions. And Garnett had played for him both at Stanford and at Minnesota. A thread was created, a common bond - and that was Willingham.

"I've wanted to play for Coach Willingham since he was at Notre Dame, or even before that," Mangum said. "He (Sayers) said nothing but great things about Willingham as a man."

So Mangum had his man. "I knew before I even left on my trip (to Washington)," he said. "Just knowing the man that Coach Willingham is. That's what sealed the deal." He set his sights on the Huskies from afar, not knowing if things were going to work out in his favor. But he had a few things going for him.

The first thing is that he had shown the Washington coaches flexibility, probably without realizing it. By the time he played this past fall for Chandler, it was clear he was going to have to play big, bigger than he wanted to. "In my situation in high school, I was the man that had to hold it down," Mangum said. Each player on Chandler's defensive line weighed under 200 pounds and three of the starters were 15 years old. "We were undersized, so I had to play heavier because of the demands of stopping the run."

He stopped the run 119 times for the Wolves in 2007. He also had four sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions. He accepted an invitation to play in the last game ever to be played at the Orange Bowl - the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl - in January. Even though he didn't know it at the time, he was playing that game with two future UW teammates - Everrette Thompson and Alameda Ta'amu.

"All of my thanks really goes to God, because without him - none of this would have been possible," Mangum said. "And my family for being there through everything."

But playing big was thought to have hampered Mangum's recruitment a touch, because at that size, most schools would only look at him as a middle linebacker. That line of reasoning might also explain how a prep All-American had only one written scholarship offer - from Colorado State - just two weeks before Letter of Intent Day.

In the end, it was Mangum's hard work traveling to combines and camps the spring before that helped convince Washington that he could play leaner than he needed to at Chandler.

"The combines were all about playing in space, checking running backs," he said. "Now I'm back in that mode of playing in space because I'll be in the Pac-10. Things are really getting spread out. And knowing that you can't limit yourself at the next level, I'm going to try and come in around 220, 222."

Right now Mangum has the speed, strength and toughness to possibly play early in his Washington career. "Learning the system is going to be the biggest thing to take care of," he said.

That brings us to the second point Mangum had going for him in his recruitment to Washington - early enrollment. Kurt graduates from Chandler next month, so he is eligible to transfer to Washington in time for spring quarter - which means he'll play spring football.

"Now I'm just training," he said. "I've been getting leaner."

Things were ready on Mangum's end. Now all he needed to do was wait and hope the Washington coaches were convinced he could play, and possibly play early if needed. He officially visited Colorado State this past weekend, and had talked to Kansas and North Carolina about possible visits. All options had to be explored.

At least until 3:49 MST on January 23rd.

"The biggest thing I told myself is not to believe the hype and put my trust in God, and everything came to pass," Mangum said. "It's been a long time coming. It's exciting, but I don't think it's really hit me yet."

Maybe it will hit him when he starts packing his bags for college in a few weeks. Top Stories