LeDarius Mack hopes to follow in his brother Khalil Mack’s footsteps for UB football
Eight years ago, an unknown linebacker from Florida who played only one year of high school football received just one offer to play Division-I FBS from UB.
That player, Khalil Mack, took to the game quickly.
He went on to become an All-American, the NCAA’s all-time leader in forced fumbles, and most recently, the NFL’s defensive player of the year.
This fall, there will be another Mack in UB’s linebacking corps. He also has little football experience but a ton of raw athleticism. And he also has only one offer to play Division-I FBS football.
LeDarius Mack only started playing football two years ago, but his former and future coaches rave about his upside if he can master the mental part of the game.
“If he would have played four years of high school football, I don’t think there would have been any question he would have been on scholarship somewhere,” said Chris Boden, Mack’s junior college head coach. “He’s a phenomenal athlete.”
Mack originally committed to ASA College, a junior college in Miami, to play basketball. But after seeing Khalil develop into one of the NFL’s most feared defensive players, Mack decided to transition to football, hoping that he too could make it to the NFL despite getting a late start at the sport.
“I ain’t even gonna lie, that [the NFL] is the goal, I’m working every day to try and get there and I know it’s gonna take extremely hard work,” Mack said. “I know it’s gonna be a grind and I believe in myself, I believe in my athleticism to bring a promising future.”
Some will say it’s crazy to offer a full scholarship to a player who is still such an unknown commodity. But Boden thinks Mack’s combination of inexperience and natural athleticism is what makes him so enticing in the first place.
“I really think he’s barely tapped into his potential as a player,” Boden said. “You recruit some kids and you can see what their ceiling is, with him it’s kind of an unknown… I think that’s what’s very intriguing about him is that you’re not really sure where that ceiling is because of his background.”
UB linebackers coach Chris Simpson says Mack will most likely redshirt this season, giving him another year to learn the nuances of the game so the mental part can become “second nature.”
“It’s the things you learn through repetition – the pad level, the bending the hips, the striking with the hands and proper base underneath you and using your feet,” Simpson said. “He was able to make some plays just off of athleticism alone without necessarily having a ton of technique, so once he’s able to obtain that, those skills, he’ll be able to use his God-given ability as well.”
Midway through February, Khalil started a minor controversy in the UB Athletics community with a Tweet about UB not offering his brother a scholarship.
“Kept my lil brother a secret for UB… unfortunately they don’t feel he’s worth a scholarship… just wait” he tweeted.
A few weeks later on March 8, Mack committed to UB football on a full scholarship. Simpson says that LeDarius had been on their radar for six months and that it was just a matter of making sure the logistics worked out.
“It wasn’t a matter of that we didn’t want LeDarius in the program it was a matter of how to make it work,” Simpson said. “The whole process is based on numbers and where you’re at within each position and things happened within our program that freed up a spot for us to be able to do that. From Khalil’s perspective, at that point in time there wasn’t a spot, things happen through the recruiting process and things open up.”
Mack says the situation was worked out after they “talk[ed] about it” and is “in the past.”
He says Khalil has helped “a lot” with his transition to football by helping him train whenever he can and giving him advice on what to improve on.
Mack is a few inches shorter than Khalil, but at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, he calls himself a “true inside linebacker.” He will wear the number 52 at UB, the same number his brother wears for the Oakland Raiders.
Simpson and Boden do not worry about Mack struggling to handle the pressure that comes with being Khalil’s brother. He is a soft-spoken, humble kid.
“That’s my brother, I want to be like him but at the same time, this is my life,” Mack said.
Even though he does still have a redshirt season available, Mack is entering the program extremely raw for a junior, as opposed to his brother who came in as a freshman and had five years to develop.
It is unknown what Mack might bring to the table as he gets more comfortable on the football field– that is why even UB was hesitant to give him a scholarship. But Buffalo has decided his family genes and athleticism are worth the risk.
“I don’t want to see [Khalil] outdo me and he’s probably never gonna let me outdo him, so that’s just a mindset thing with us, we’re competitive,” Mack said. “I believe in myself… it’s a ‘you did it, why can’t I sort of thing.’”
Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org