For their annual fund-raiser, the athletic boosters at Centerville High in suburban Dayton, Ohio, recently raffled off two tickets to a N.F.L. game. Normally, that would be considered sweetening the pot with an artificial substance, there being no real substitute in these parts for football as it is played in high schools or at nearby Ohio State.
Do not be deceived by the name Centerville. Columbus, home to Ohio State, is actually in the middle of the state.
This year is the rarest of exceptions. People who do not follow the N.F.L. were giddy at the prospect of procuring tickets for the Jets’ game this weekend against the Packers in Green Bay, Wis. The reason was threefold: Mike Nugent and Nick Mangold of the Jets, and A. J. Hawk of the Packers grew up in Centerville.
Nugent, a second-year place-kicker, is coming off a four field-goal performance against the Houston Texans that included a career-best 54-yarder. Mangold, a rookie, has started all 11 games at center while accruing only two penalties. Hawk, a rookie linebacker, was credited with 15 tackles (10 unassisted) in the Packers’ loss at Seattle on Monday night.
One of the first things they did was check the schedules.
They congratulated each other on being first-round draft choices that day in April. But that had been an inevitable outcome, a crowning achievement building for years. What they were more concerned about was the possibility of playing against each other in the upcoming NFL season. So soon after their professional destinations were determined, they ran their fingers down the corresponding schedules. And there it was.
Jets at Green Bay.
A.J. vs. Nick.
It was never spoken of again.
“We actually stayed away from it once we found out,” Jets center Nick Mangold said. “It never really came up.”
Of all the things an NFL center must keep track of, sometimes the most obvious is overlooked. After checking for the defensive scheme, organizing and communicating the blocking plan, then taking one last peek to adjust to blitzes, Jets rookie Nick Mangold lives by one rule.
“Always know the snap count,” he said, “because they know when you don’t.”
There are few things more embarrassing than standing in front of 80,000 or so fans with the football still in your hands after the other 21 players on the field have jolted into action. There’s no chance to point across the line and blame a twitch by a defender, nor is there a reason to look up at the scoreboard to see if the refs got the call right. The evidence is humiliating and overwhelming.
It’s a lonely feeling Mangold has not experienced this season. The Jets center has found another way to stand out - by quickly developing into a leader despite being the youngest member of a young offensive line. The Grizzly Adams beard he’s been ignoring since training camp hides the baby face of a 22-year-old, born a month after fellow rookie and fast friend D’Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle and more than a decade after 11-year veteran Pete Kendall at left guard.
The midway point of the season has arrived and the infamous rookie wall is looming. It’s a time of year when rookies have already played as many games as they would’ve during a full college season and still have half an NFL season — plus the playoffs in some cases — to go.
Monitoring who hits the rookie wall and who runs through it is especially important to the Jets this season because they have so many rookies making significant contributions.
The Jets selected 10 players in April’s draft, six of whom are receiving major playing time. Two have started since the first day of training camp — left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson (taken fourth overall) and center Nick Mangold (29th overall). Two have started at least two games (running back Leon Washington and cornerback Drew Coleman) and two more are key players (wide receiver Brad Smith and safety Eric Smith, no relation).
Counting the preseason, the Jets (4-4), who travel to New England (6-2) on Sunday, have played 12 games, the equivalent of a college season. Players returned yesterday from their bye week and a four-day weekend.
Alter High School football player Holley Mangold is doing an effective job covering the media blitz this season.
The New York Times put her photo on the front page last Sunday and included a story in the sports section. The NFL Network crew showed up at an Alter practice, and ESPN has a feature in the works.
What’s next for the 5-foot-9, 300-pound guard?
“I’d throw all the notoriety out the door for a state championship ring,” Mangold said Thursday. “That’s what I really want to achieve, and we’re all working hard for it. That would be the ultimate — the ring and bragging rights for a lifetime.”
The subject was Big Ted Washington, the Cleveland Browns’ venerable nose tackle, a man who is listed at 365 pounds; speculation rages that he’s probably closer to 375, maybe even 400. We’re talking Sumo territory. And thrown into Washington’s way this Sunday will be Jets center Nick Mangold, a rookie who weighs in at a svelte 300 and looks more like an Amish farmboy with his shoulder- length blond hair and that two-inch-long beard he’s been growing since training camp.
When asked yesterday if he has any advice for young Mangold, Jets linebacker Matt Chatham smiled and said, “Eat your Wheaties.”
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) - Nick Mangold never threw a big pass or scored a winning touchdown while growing up in Ohio.
“Always a little fat kid stuck on the line,” the New York Jets’ rookie centre said with a laugh Thursday. “So, I never really got that excitement.”
A few years and a handful of large paycheques later, the six-foot-four, 300-pound first-round draft pick from Ohio State has the Jets enthused about the big man in the middle of their offensive line.
“I think probably the highest compliment anybody could give him is that he’s come in and, to me, played like he’s been here before,” veteran guard Pete Kendall said. “That’s the most impressive thing for a guy who hasn’t been here, to play like he has.”
When he was drafted in April, Mangold was mostly known as “the other offensive lineman” with the Viking looks - with his shoulder-length blond hair and golden beard and mustache. While tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson got all the hype as the No. 4 overall pick, Mangold quietly became a member of the Jets 25 picks later.
His selection was mostly praised by draft analysts, scouts and fans who envisioned Mangold teaming with Ferguson - the Nick and ‘Brick Show - as the anchors of the Jets’ offensive line for years to come. So far, the high hopes have come to fruition.
They would sit in their room at Ohio State, two future first-round draft picks, watching football highlights. Then Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas would be on the screen. And so the football tutorial began.
Nick Mangold, the Jets’ rookie center, had studied plenty of clips of Thomas long before he sat in meeting rooms this week. Mangold’s college roommate at Ohio State was linebacker A. J. Hawk, who is now with the Green Bay Packers. When Thomas, Hawk’s idol, showed up on television, Mangold received scouting reports on Thomas that applied even this week as Mangold prepared to play his first game against the Dolphins today.
“I see it as a huge opportunity; he’s somebody I’ve grown up watching play,” Mangold said. “My roommate was a huge fan, so I saw him a lot more. Whenever a highlight was on, it would be pointed out to me. The way he plays, he’s always going a million miles an hour. It’s always exciting to watch that.”
The New York Jets, meanwhile, enter Sunday’s game against Miami not only enjoying the play of their rookies, but leaning on it.
The offensive line is anchored by center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
‘’Those guys have done an excellent job in coming in and learning as much as they can,'’ Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said. “The veterans on the offensive line have done a great job teaching them little things about offensive line pay in the NFL.
“Slowly, they’ve gotten better every week, and every week you see improvement in those guys, and they just keep making progress and they maintain the same work ethic every week.'’