UNC's Mangum: Walk-on from Raleigh now impact player

acarter@newsobserver.comOctober 5, 2012 

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UNC's Pete Mangum (31) and the Tar Heels defense chase down Idaho's Najee Lovett (2) on a kick off return in the fourth quarter.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— The punt that North Carolina senior Pete Mangum blocked last week in the Tar Heels’ 66-0 victory against Idaho shouldn’t have been blocked at all. Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora, who leads the team’s punt return unit, didn’t call for a block.

But the Vandals’ player who was supposed to account for Mangum didn’t, and so Mangum adjusted on the move.

“He just reacted and went and blocked the punt,” Fedora said earlier this week. “But that’s Pete. That’s him. He’s got great football savvy. He’s going to do things that help you win football games.”

Mangum, whom UNC coaches have named special teams player of the week the past three weeks, has done plenty of that recently. Yet no Division I college football team wanted him when he graduated in 2008 from Leesville Road High School in Raleigh.

“The Ohio Bobcats talked to me for a little bit,” said Mangum, 5-10, 190-pounds, who started for three seasons at Leesville and was a standout at running back and safety. “But I didn’t end up getting any offers coming out.”

He went to UNC, where he said he had felt “comfortable.” John Shoop, the Tar Heels’ offensive coordinator under former coach Butch Davis, invited Mangum to walk on.

But when Mangum arrived on campus, the Heels’ 105-man roster – which included 20 non-scholarship players – was full. That meant he had to earn his way onto the team by advancing through an open tryout.

Mangum did that, and then spent the fall of 2008 on the scout team. His confidence grew over time.

“I was going against (starters) on the scout team,” Mangum said. “And especially on punt block, on punt return, going against the ones all the time, I feel like I started to get better, and I started to slip through there – slip through the blocks.”

His time came in 2009. The Tar Heels were up big in the second half. Mangum doesn’t remember the game. Only the moment. The coaching staff called his number, and he went in on the kickoff coverage unit.

“It was pretty amazing,” he said. “I was just so excited. We were up on a team pretty high, and they started subbing people in. So I got a chance to go down on kickoff and I remember watching film the next day and [a coach] was like, ‘Look at this guy right here – he’s the first one down.’”

Mangum played in six games in 2009 and then in every game in 2010, when coaches named him the team’s special teams MVP. He earned a scholarship before last season, when he played in every game and started at linebacker in UNC’s 41-24 loss against Missouri in the Independence Bowl.

The coaching transition at UNC might have put Mangum’s future in jeopardy. No scholarship is ever guaranteed – especially for former walk-ons. But the decision to renew Mangum’s scholarship proved an easy one for Fedora, who has raved about Mangum’s dedication to special teams.

“You watch him on Saturdays, and it doesn’t matter what unit he’s on,” Fedora said. “He’s going as hard as he can possibly go.”

And not just in football. Mangum has done that in the classroom, too, where he’s a biomedical engineering major. This is his fifth year on campus, and so this semester is a light one for him – just one class.

His previous semesters, though, have been filled with physics and electronics classes. The most difficult course he has taken?

“I took quantum mechanics last spring, and that was pretty tough,” Mangum said. “ … It’s basically physics at the particle level. And getting into different energies and what each particle does – different spins and stuff. It’s interesting.”

After college, Mangum said he wants to own his own company, “engineering and designing different things.” He’s not sure where the focus will be, but he has plenty to keep him busy in the meantime.

The Heels on Saturday host Virginia Tech, which UNC players and coaches say will provide their most difficult test yet. The Hokies are known for their special teams prowess under coach Frank Beamer – so much that “Beamerball” has come to describe anything from a blocked kick to a return for a touchdown.

Fedora said he has modeled some of his special teams philosophy after Beamer. Above all, Fedora appreciates aggressiveness on special teams – and Mangum personifies that.

He had to fight his way onto the team, then onto the field and then into a scholarship. He keeps seeing openings, like the one that led to that blocked punt against Idaho.

“I remember when I was first on campus,” UNC quarterback Bryn Renner said. “Everybody was just raving about how he worked. I’ve never seen a kid work, be in this building as much as Pete is. He never quit and he never gave up, and he had all the opportunity to quit and give up.

“I call him Rudy, because he’s that fiery-type of guy, and I think he embraces that role.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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