Freshman year was not so fine. "I hated it," Mamula says. Too light to play but not too light to be a practice-time punching bag, Mamula struggled to learn his place. And that place was in then coach Tom Coughlin's version of the penalty box. The Dawn Patrol, BC players called it.
"Miss a meeting," Mamula says, "and you'd have three days of workouts at six in the morning. Miss a class, and it was the same thing. I wasn't very disciplined at the time, so I spent most of the year on the Dawn Patrol." One Dawn Patrol exercise was to lie on one sideline of the artificial turf of Alumni Stadium and roll to the other sideline. Rolling back and forth, back and forth, getting dizzy and soaked with near freezing dew.
"There was this other thing we'd have to do sometimes in the gym," Mamula remembers. "You'll get a folding chair, set it up and put your feet through the back of it. You'd put your hands on the floor, so you were stretched out over the chair. Then you'd have to walk the chair all over the floor for 45 minutes. It was so incredibly stupid. I thought, What the hell am I doing here?"
He found out the next year—"my responsible-citizen year," he says—when Coughlin made him the starter at outside linebacker as a 232-pound redshirt freshman. Though he hurt his shoulder on the first snap of the season and missed three games, Mamula soon started contributing. As a sophomore he had an 11-sack season as a 228-pound defensive end. In the Eagles' 41-39 upset of Notre Dame that year, he eluded tackle Aaron Taylor, who would later be the first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers, for two sacks and made 14 tackles to earn NBC Player of the Game honors.
At 242 pounds at the start of last season Mamula was the most productive tormenter of backfields in the country, with an amazing 3.2 tackles for loss (including sacks) per game. He finished the season with 13 sacks and 22 additional tackles for loss, numbers good enough to get him selected to the Big East all-conference team. "Every time I looked up he was there," said Kansas State quarterback Chad May after Mamula's four sacks and four quarterback pressures keyed BC's 12-7 Aloha Bowl win.
Watch Mamula on tape, and two words come to mind: fluid and relentless. Against K-State he would glide between the tackle and tight end, slapping blockers out of his way. When he had to, he would overpower one lineman or sprint around another.
Now the pros have to figure out which position Mamula is best suited to play in the NFL. The conventional wisdom is that at his current weight he would be a linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and that bulked up to 260-plus, he would be a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment. "He's a puzzle because he's linebacker-sized and he played defensive end in college," says Dolphin director of college scouting Tom Braatz.
Top pass rushers in the NFL are as rare as Buccaneer playoff wins. Last season only five players had 12 or more sacks, and only two of them—265-pound defensive end Leslie O'Neal of the San Diego Chargers and 275-pound John Randle of the Minnesota Vikings—weighed more than 250. Mamula is essentially the same size and has the same speed as Charles Haley, the Dallas Cowboy All-Pro defensive end. Furthermore, as the combine showed, Mamula may be one of the most gifted pass rushers to enter pro football in the past decade. His BC coach, Dan Henning, recently told a Kansas City Chief scout that he compares Mamula favorably to Lawrence Taylor.
The best guess around the league now is that Mamula will be drafted in the top 10, perhaps by Tampa Bay, the New York Jets or the Browns. Or Philadelphia might try to trade into the top 10 to get him.
Mamula is content to wait. "I've always believed if you make plays, you're a good player," he said. "I don't understand how teams could have many doubts about me."