Odd couple Montgomery, Mingo wreaking havoc for LSU defense
Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo form the country's top defensive end unit
No. 4 LSU's Week 6 game at No. 10 Florida is a showcase for both draft prospects
The M&M brothers, who met as recruits, share a special bond on and off the field
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo met nearly five years ago on a recruiting trip to Michigan. At a club on their final night in Ann Arbor, Mingo went to a back VIP area and dozed off on a couch. Worried, Montgomery sat next to Mingo.
"His legs were all out there and a girl tripped over his legs and fell into my lap," Montgomery said. "I looked at him, and he looked at me, and he smiled and went back to sleep. That's how we met."
That marked the fitting start of the journey for LSU's odd couple, the nation's best tandem of defensive ends who both project as first-round picks in this spring's NFL draft.
Montgomery and Mingo tease each other like brothers, nag each other like an old married couple and complement each other much better than they compliment one another. Montgomery is so outgoing, he pelted Rich Rodriguez with a snowball on that Michigan trip. Mingo is a reserved leader, which is why he and Montgomery don't live together.
"I would kill him," Mingo said flatly.
Despite losing Tyrann Mathieu to suspension and three other defensive backs -- including No. 6 pick Morris Claiborne -- to the draft, LSU ranks No. 4 nationally in total defense. Let's just say the Tigers are making ends meet.
"It would be hard to find a more dynamic pair of ends in the country," said an NFC director of player personnel. "What they give you is ability to generate pressure. They're prototypical 4-3 college defensive ends with great speed, what you're looking for to match spread option offenses."
No. 4 LSU will look to generate that pressure Saturday afternoon against No. 10 Florida in Gainesville. The SEC showdown will be the stiffest test yet for an enigmatic Tigers squad that struggled in a victory over Towson in Week 5. It will also serve as a showcase game for Montgomery and Mingo, a pair of fourth-year juniors who have helped make the line the identity of LSU's defense.
But the two defensive ends come at the quarterback from distinctly different paths. Montgomery loves Sonic -- the cartoon hedgehog, not the caloric restaurant -- and is known as Sonic Sam. Mingo is learning to fly, having attempted sky diving this summer and hoping to someday get a pilot's license. Mingo also goes by "Keke," making him perhaps the most intimidating Keke in sports history.
LSU likes to call them the M&M brothers, and its sports information department has already begun producing purple and gold chocolate-shelled goodies with their faces on them.
"There's like a little special bond that we have," said Montgomery, who is outgoing enough to make head coach Les Miles seem vanilla. "It's like a secret type of communication. We do it with our eyes. It's kind of weird."
Mingo finished last year with 15 tackles for loss, eight sacks and a team-high 11 quarterback hurries. Montgomery led LSU with nine sacks and registered 13.5 tackles for loss. They combined for more than 150 yards lost, and there's no accounting for the sleep loss they gave to opposing offensive coordinators.
They spend enough time in the opponent's backfield that they have extended conversations about proper sack celebrations and sophisticated beliefs about sack etiquette: Mingo is opposed to vulturing half-sacks by jumping on a quarterback a teammate has already hit; Montgomery has no problem trying to swipe a half-sack.
In an effort to prove his point, Mingo attempted to tweak his buddy by swiping a sack from Montgomery last year after Montgomery tripped up Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.
"It was so dirty," Montgomery said, disgusted.
"They still gave it to him," laughed Mingo, "but I thought it was funny that I tried."
Mingo is more reserved, so it's fitting that after his first career sack against Vanderbilt as a redshirt freshman, he forgot his celebration.
"We had a secret handshake," said Montgomery, rolling his eyes, "and he just messed it up."
True to his boisterous nature, Montgomery is known to unleash primal screams when near the quarterback. After showcasing his sack scream in an interview last week, Montgomery then offered some spelling advice to a reporter: "It's a-a-a-h-h-h-a-w," he said, distinctly pronouncing every letter.
"He really does stuff like that on the field," Mingo said. When asked to show his Sonic celebration, though, Montgomery exhibited a rare bit of restraint.
"Let me score a touchdown first," Montgomery said with a smile. "I'll get a flag."
Mingo quickly added: "I'll come tackle you before you do anything."
Montgomery doesn't have a touchdown this year, but his safety against Auburn proved to be the difference in LSU's 12-10 road victory. So far this year, Montgomery has leapt ahead of Mingo statistically, as Sonic Sam already has 6.5 tackles for loss. Mingo has slipped a bit statistically, with two tackles for loss and one sack, but he does lead the team with seven quarterback hurries. Montgomery also joked that Mingo leads the nation in missed sacks.
"Can you underline miss?" Montgomery asked. Mingo laughed: "I'll wrap him up and the quarterback will stumble out and that's how Sam gets most of his sacks. I have to boost his ego."
During Miles's time at LSU, there's been enough defensive line talent to easily fill an NFL two-deep. That includes Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Drake Nevis, Al Woods and Michael Brockers.
An NFC personnel director said he sees both Mingo and Montgomery going in the first round this year. He gave a slight edge to Mingo, whom he sees as a top 20 pick. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper is even higher on the pair, projecting Mingo as the No. 3 overall pick and Montgomery as the No. 4 overall if they leave after this season.
The personnel director said Mingo has a better feel for the game and praised his first step, change of direction and "understanding of how to make himself skinny and make himself small cutting off the edge." He said Montgomery's strengths are rushing the passer, his length and his ability to turn and run. He'd like to see Montgomery a "little more stout at the point of attack in handling those big guys."
LSU's Miles has benefitted from those strengths. "They seek excellence," Miles said of his ends. "They're really driven and ambitious. They understand what level of greatness has played before them and they want to play to it."
Miles, however, is not a fan of Mingo's new sky diving hobby. "Certainly not in the short term," the coach said. Mingo went for the first time this summer, free falling for 77 seconds and experiencing a different type of rush than the one for which he's on scholarship.
"It's like an extreme edgy kind of thrill," Mingo said. "I fell in love with it. It was probably one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life."
Montgomery's collection of all things Sonic pre-dates Mingo's fascination with flying.
"In my neighborhood, there wasn't a lot of heroes," Montgomery said. "We used to look up to cartoon characters as heroes."
Montgomery and his stepbrother, John Darrel Adams, grew up playing Sonic video games in South Carolina. After Adams was murdered while working as a bar bouncer during Montgomery's junior year of high school, Montgomery began collecting Sonic items as a way to honor his brother. Sonic is in Montgomery's Twitter handle (@Sonic99_SC), on his slippers and on a giant wooden carved necklace. (When asked what the necklace was made of, Montgomery took a deep sniff and said, "Ahhhhhhh, Mahogany.")
"This is how I keep my memory of my brother alive," Montgomery said of the Sonic tributes.
When this season ends, there's a strong chance Montgomery and his brother on the LSU defensive line could both be off to chase quarterbacks in the NFL.
Playing their respective roles until the end, Mingo gave the standard answer about waiting until the season ends before exploring the NFL.
Montgomery just smiled and offered a fitting tie between LSU's opposite ends.
"I'm leaving," Montgomery said, "when he leaves."