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"Some teams wait years to have an opportunity to be in a spot to pick one of those guys or move up and get one," says Snead, whose Rams have two first-round picks this year. "If you can find that guy who has a combination of athleticism, flat-out speed, body control and desire, you jump all over him."
Snead's checklist descends from the one that Gil Brandt helped to create nearly 50 years ago while he was the Cowboys' VP of player personnel. Along with the requisite athletic traits, the Cowboys looked for things like mental alertness and character. "We were willing to take a flier on a player who could run fast and had all the intangibles," says Brandt, who took road trips to schools such as Tennessee State and Langston University to unearth such hidden talents as Ed (Too Tall) Jones and Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, the player Mingo most reminds him of. ("Mingo is much further advanced than Henderson was at this point," he points out.)
Today those types of prospects end up on the practice fields of BCS power programs—guys with nontraditional backgrounds who 10 years ago might've been turned into tight ends or who might not have come to the game at all. Guys like KeKe.
Mingo didn't set out to play football. His mother expressly forbade it ("I thought he was going to get hurt," she says), so he ran track at West Monroe High and played basketball. "I thought [by now] I'd be in the NBA, lighting it up, posting somebody up," he says.
But when assistant principal James Remedies watched the brick-chucking, stone-handed, hustling forward thrash about the court, the former hoops coach envisioned a change of scenery. "KeKe was such a fierce competitor," says Remedies, "I couldn't see him being a failure on the football field."
Giving in to pressure from Rebels football players and coaches, and then earning the blessing of his mother (who was convinced by a friend to watch her son play and was suddenly more concerned about his opponents), Mingo reported in the spring of his sophomore year, and equipment managers showed him how to put on his pads while defensive coaches taught him where to line up and what to do at the snap. If there remained any doubt about Mingo's raw physical ability, he quashed it days after football practice started when he helped the track team to a state title with blistering heats in the 4 × 400 and the 400 meters, where his times hovered in the 50-second range—staggering times for a 200-pounder.
On the football field that physicality translated into domination. The Rebels changed their defense from a 4--3 to a 3--4 to accommodate the convert, and Mingo was named first-team all-state in his first year of competition.
LSU coach Les Miles was intrigued enough that he tagged along with Mingo to the West Monroe football banquet after his junior season to seal his commitment. "I don't know that I've had more fun," Miles says. "Innocent fun. Laughing. Stupid. Entertaining."
Mingo has held fast to this G-rated personality. He doesn't cuss or drink or smoke. When he's back in West Monroe with nothing to do, he'll finish the home improvement projects that his stepfather, Reggie Williams, a professional contractor, has started around the house—"and do them well," Williams points out. Or he'll go for two-mile training runs with the Rebels' track team.
Mingo's craziest nights are built around episodes of ABC's Scandal or Lifetime original movies. Last year at LSU, Miles's young sons went MIA. The coach called them in a huff, demanding to know where they were, but he struggled to stay mad when he learned they were in KeKe's room, the coach recalls. "All I could say was, 'O.K.... come back in an hour.' "