Despite his mother’s wishes, Mingo hung up the high-tops from basketball and put on a pair of shoulder pads, a helmet and cleats and gave football a try.
“I just had to go behind her back,” Mingo recalled. “It wasn’t really going behind her back, but I really didn’t have her blessing. I obviously won her over later in the year, got her to come to some games and kind of helped make that transition from basketball to football, and it was good.
“We had a track meet, the state track meet one Saturday, took a break, got sized up for state rings on Tuesday, then, I went out for football on Wednesday. The spring game was that Thursday, and I had 15 tackles. I wasn’t supposed to be the starter. The guy in front of me got hurt on the first or second play, and I made a lot of plays. The coaches were behind me telling me where to go. Off instinct, it just came easy.”
When he started playing football, the former sprinter in track and defensive specialist in basketball picked up on the idea of getting to the quarterback and tackling players near the line of scrimmage.
In his first season, he registered 66 total stops, six sacks and 12 tackles for lost yardage on a team that went 12-1 and made an appearance in the Louisiana state playoffs. He followed that up with a senior season where he earned Class 5A All-State honors after making 59 total tackles, registering seven sacks and collecting 11 tackles for lost yardage. Mingo also forced four fumbles and recovered seven as a senior at West Monroe High School.
“When I started playing football, I just got it quickly,” Mingo said. “After the first year of getting some offers in, then, I knew that I could hopefully, one day, make the jump to the NFL. The success I had late, it’s surreal. Being drafted to the Cleveland Browns is icing on the cake.”
Mingo’s mother did eventually find out that he was playing football, but had always encouraged her five sons to pursue athletics as a way for them to stay out of trouble. However, it was Johnson who needed the encouraging when it came to watching Mingo play.
On the suggestion of a co-worker, Johnson attended her first football game.
“I went to the game, and when I was there, I didn’t watch the game because I was sitting with my face covered the whole game,” Johnson said. “He was knocking everybody down. I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. He’s going to hurt somebody’s child. What is he doing now? He needs to stop.’ I’m like, ‘KeKe, stop that.’ I went back to work and said, ‘Scott, you’re right. He’s not getting hurt. He’s hurting everybody else’s child.’”
Now, when Johnson looks at her son, she sees an athlete who can make an impact on the football field.
“I think he can hold his own,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen what he can do. I like to say he likes to eat quarterbacks.”
LIVING UP TO NO. 6
Mingo was the third player the Browns have ever chosen with the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL Draft. He joins Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1957), and Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (2004) as the other Browns taken at No. 6, and plans on proving he was worthy of that pick when he gets on the field for training camp in July.
“I’ll just come out here ready to work,” Mingo said. “I think that’s what these coaches are expecting, and that’s what I’m committed to do. They brought me in for a reason, and I’m here to play football.”
TEAMING WITH THE ‘HONEY BADGER’
Having played at LSU, Mingo had the opportunity to play on the same side of the ball as 2011 Heisman-Trophy finalist Tyrann (“Honey Badger”) Mathieu, who is still available in the 2013 NFL Draft.
“He was a teammate for three years, a good friend, brother,” Mingo said. “I’d love to see him in brown and orange. I’d love to see anybody from the purple and gold in the brown and orange. We’re all brothers. We’ve bled, sweat in the same uniform and to see any of those guys come here, it would be awesome.
“I told (the Browns’ coaches) he was a great teammate, a great playmaker. He had an instinct for getting to the ball, and he just made plays. I don’t understand how he did it, but he did it.”
ALL IN THE NAME
When asked about his name on Thursday night, Mingo said his mother created it for him. It has a deep meaning for Johnson.
“I gave him part of my name,” Johnson said. “He has a brother named Hugh, and Hughtavious. That’s their dad’s name, so I gave him Bar for Barbara. I liked Kevious, and I gave him Barbara because it’s my first name.”