September 2, 2014

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Browns’ top pick Mingo hid football from mom, who became his biggest fan

BEREA — At first Barbara Johnson was afraid to watch son Barkevious Mingo play the game that would eventually make him a millionaire. Then she was scared he would hurt the other kids.

She’s gotten over it.

“I’ve seen what he can do,” Johnson said Friday when asked if she’s worried about him in the big, bad NFL. “I like to say, ‘He likes to eat quarterbacks.’”

Mingo, the No. 6 pick Thursday night, was introduced to the Northeast Ohio media Friday. The outside linebacker held up a No. 51 Browns jersey — close to his 49 at LSU — and posed for pictures with coach Rob Chudzinski.

The milestone moment hardly seemed possible six years ago when he was forbidden from contact sports by a protective mother. He played basketball and ran track, then covertly began football practice as a high school junior in West Monroe, La.

“I didn’t let them play football because I thought they were going to get hurt,” Johnson, who has five sons, said after proudly watching Mingo address the media. “They were to ride their bicycles, that was the only injury they were to get. So he kind of snuck around and practiced and played.”

Mingo didn’t argue that some deception was involved.

“It wasn’t really technically going around her back but I really didn’t have her blessing,” he said. “But I obviously won her over late in the year and got her to come to some games and kind of helped make that transition to her from basketball to football and it was good.”

A co-worker at Lowe’s, where she still works, was the catalyst for Johnson attending her first game. He told her she needed to watch Mingo play because he was good.

“I didn’t watch the game, I was sitting with my face covered the whole game because he was knocking everybody down,” said Johnson, who played high school basketball. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, he’s going to hurt somebody else’s child. He needs to stop.’ I’m like, ‘KeKe, stop that.’ He can’t hear me ’cause it’s loud.

“When he got home I said, ‘Why did you hit that boy that hard?’ He said, ‘Mama, that’s the game.’ I didn’t know anything about football. I didn’t watch it until that game.”

Mingo was an instant success. He said he had 15 tackles in the spring game on his second day, and scholarship offers came after his first year.

“Then I knew I could hopefully one day make the jump to the NFL, and the success I had late is surreal and obviously being drafted to the Cleveland Browns is icing on the cake,” he said. “Off instinct it just came easy.”

The push to try football came from an assistant principal.

“James Remedies told me, ‘There aren’t many 6-(foot)-5 (power forwards) in the NBA. I really think you’ll be a good pass rusher,’” Mingo said. “He told me that and it came true.”

The ability to harass the quarterback made Mingo an object of desire for the Browns. He had 15 sacks in three years at LSU, including eight in 2011, and said his work ethic won’t allow him to be a bust like other pass rushers before him.

“At LSU, I played with a high motor,” he said. “Every play, I wanted a sack. I wanted to be in the backfield. Just having that mindset helps everything else.”

What’s a perfect sack?

“Getting a good jump off the line, coming around the edge and just squaring the quarterback up and taking him to the ground,” he said.

Mingo was a linebacker in high school, then played defensive end at LSU. He said the biggest transition to 3-4 outside linebacker will be learning to cover tight ends and slot receivers.

“I don’t think it’ll be too difficult,” he said. “I’m not the stiff-hipped guy. I think I’m pretty mobile and move pretty well, so I think it’ll be an easy transition. Just have to work on it.”

The other questions that followed Mingo in the draft process were his slight frame — he looked skinny Friday with narrow shoulders — and lack of sack production as a redshirt junior in 2012 (4.5). He dismissed both concerns.

He’s 6-4 and said he weighs 237 — 4 pounds lighter than at the scouting combine in February. He was even a little light at birth — 6 pounds, 9 ounces, according to Mom.

“I think I can play at this weight right here,” he said. “A lot of people have been telling me you need to be heavier to be in the NFL, you’ve got to be 20 pounds heavier. I actually played lighter some years in my college career, and I did absolutely fine.”

Despite the drop in sacks, Mingo had 8.5 tackles for loss and a career-high 12 pressures last season.

“I feel I played better,” he said. “The stats really don’t tell how everything went. Teams didn’t want to get their quarterback sacked. They were chipping, they were sliding the line, they were doing a lot of stuff to disrupt our rush from both ends and we played mobile quarterbacks, guys that if they could get out of the pocket they could run. By design we wanted to contain those guys and keep them in the pocket.

“I was a run stopper. I was an every-down player. I wasn’t just a pass rusher.”

Johnson had never been to New York until this week when she joined Mingo for the draft festivities. Mingo’s girlfriend, Lauren, was also in attendance as he got the star treatment.

“That’s what’s so amazing about it. I’ve never been there and then my child takes me there,” Johnson said.

“To hear my name called last night, I just can’t put it into words but I’m really blessed and thrilled to be here,” Mingo said. “I’m just ready to get back to work.”

And Mom is ready to watch. Even if she is still learning the game.

“I’m getting there,” she said. “I know when he hits somebody, I know what his place is, I know what the quarterback is.”

And what he does to them.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.