The linebacker tandem of Keith Pough and Kurt Mangum II gives Howard University’s opponents reasons to fear. They’re tough as hardwood nails. They hit you like a ton of bricks. Their mental makeup is carved out of life experiences. They fly around the round the football the same way a fly can find his way to a hamburger.
Each week the duo finds themselves engaged in a toe-to-toe in a chess match, trying to outthink the offensive game plans of their foes.
Off the field, it’s pretty much the same way with the two highly-touted athletes. They share a commonality in their faith. They’re active in their communities. They mentor other young people. They are scholars in the classroom. Doing things the right way is a rule of thumb for both players.
In today’s era of give-it-to-me now student-athlete where an open invitation of temptations lurk at every corner, Pough, a self-described “country boy” from Orangeburg, South Carolina, and Mangum, who hails from Chandler, Arizona, are individuals who prefer to educate rather than perpetrate. They respect conformity and order.
With so many headline-grabbing scandals rocking Division I athletic programs, Pough and Mangum ditched those schools in favor of attending Howard because of the richness of the culture at a historically black college. They also understand what’s required of them-on and off the field. They’re more than football players. They’re leaders of the future, said Pough, a preseason All-American.
“I grew up around HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities),” Pough said. “My grandfather went to South Carolina State. My uncle did. My mom did as well. I just love the atmosphere on Saturday. I can’t downplay the atmosphere of going to a Clemson or an Auburn University. But there is something about black college football that I love. It’s a blessing to be part of the legacy and the history of Howard University.
“Howard University is a great university. I count it a blessing to be on the same campus as other great people. There have been a lot of great halos that have come before me, people who have paved the way. If I don’t give it my all one hundred percent all the time, then I feel like I’ve given them no justice.”
Howard University is among the best academic institutions in America. It has long been considered the elite and Mecca of all HBCUs. That hasn’t always been the case with its football program. While the school is known for famous alumni such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, gospel legend Richard Smallwood, actresses Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, author Zora Neale Hurston, actor Ossie Davis and AOL/Time Warner mogul Richard Parsons , it’s football team has flirted with marginal success over the years.
It’s worth noting the school did win the mythical national black college football championship when current head coach Gary “The Flea” Harrell played for the Bison in 1993. However, the last couple of years have been nothing but a slumbering party for the Howard University football team, losing 19 of 22 games.
The school’s famous, rhythmic marching band has gotten more rave reviews at times than the football team. Pough and Mangum hope to change that this season.
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Pough is a relentless defender in the mode of Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker stud Ray Lewis. Mangum, a blue-chip recruit at the University of Washington before he transferred to Howard, is perfect sidekick to Pough’s tireless energy with his sturdy 6-foot-1, 240-pound frame and steady impact play on the ball.
The bookend teammates have already generated national buzz about their play on the field, despite the fact that both are underclassmen. Pough is only a junior and Mangum is just a sophomore.
Pough hopes his passion for the game, which he picked up early following his father to football games, will become infectious to the rest of the team.
“My number one goal is to inspire these young men to want to follow me so we can win so we can be on one accord so that w3e can turn this program around,” Pough said. “I kind of pattern my game after Ray Lewis. We have two different styles, but my intensity, my passion for the game, I kind of look up to him because of how he plays and his love for the game and his dedication for the game.
“He’s the one you aspire to get to. I’ve been around the game since I was three. I was a ballboy. I was at every game. The passion came with time. The mentality that I have is that nobody can block me. Nobody can stop me unless I stop myself. All of that kind of feeds into the intensity.”
That intensity calms when both Pough and Mangum are away from the playing field. Neither one believe in putting themselves in a situation that would jeopardize their academic and athletic future. The responsibility of a student-athlete doesn’t include the right to act a fool, Pough said.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” Pough said. “There’s a lot going on at all hours of the night. Don’t put yourself in a situation that will get you into trouble. Its cool to have fun. It’s cool to be out. But when you do go out, it’s not just you when you step out.
“It’s not only you, but it’s the school. It’s the organization you’re representing. Character defined is what you are doing when no one is watching. If you’re dedicated to something, you are already going to do the right thing. It doesn’t matter if you get praised for it or not.”