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USF’s Thad Mangum has always been unique

The defensive tackle was a 270-pound point guard and earned a karate black belt at age 8.
USF defensive tackle Thad Mangum huddles at the beginning of the fourth quarter during the game against the Florida Gators at Raymond James Stadium on Sept 11. This is his seventh year of college football.
USF defensive tackle Thad Mangum huddles at the beginning of the fourth quarter during the game against the Florida Gators at Raymond James Stadium on Sept 11. This is his seventh year of college football. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Oct. 27

TAMPA — The phone call came out of the blue in March. Thad Mangum’s father George, a truck driver on another long-distance haul, walked out of a convenience store in Iowa and crumpled to the ground. A blood clot led to his death on the spot. He was 59.

Mangum, USF’s big defensive tackle, said he sat there after a spring practice “completely in shock, shocked and hurt.” His mother, Valerie, worried about her son from her South Carolina home, “because I thought he’s down there all alone.”

But he wasn’t. Coach Jeff Scott and defensive line coach Da’Quan Bowers along with many teammates were at his side. Bowers could commiserate, sharing a story about his father dying when he was a senior at Clemson.

Then came the ultimate gesture.

A few days later at the funeral in South Carolina, Mangum said he turned the corner to view his father’s body in the casket when he looked up and there was Scott and Bowers.

“That meant so much to me and to my family I can’t even tell you,” Mangum said. “It helped us continue, to keep going. To get through it.”

Valerie said she couldn’t believe it when they showed up. “We are forever grateful. It’s something we will never forget.”

It was yet another profound moment in Mangum’s life, which in his 24 years has been packed full of intense experiences that have formed a foundation to deal with whatever may come his way.

He says the story really begins at age 4.

That’s when a kindergarten substitute teacher, who also ran a karate studio, saw Mangum’s athleticism on the playground. Mangum went home that day and told his mom the teacher suggested he try karate.

Valerie drove her son to the studio the next day.

Temple wide receiver Amad Anderson Jr. (85) is tackled by USF's Thad Mangum (23) and Matthew Hill (1) during last weekend's Bulls' win.
Temple wide receiver Amad Anderson Jr. (85) is tackled by USF's Thad Mangum (23) and Matthew Hill (1) during last weekend's Bulls' win. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The next four years Mangum practiced karate every day and at age 8, he earned his black belt. A year later he won a gold medal at the Junior Olympics Sparring Nationals.

At the same time, Mangum, who by his teens had grown into a 6-foot, 270-pound ball of muscle, also played basketball, ultimately starting at point guard for his high school, Christ Church in Piedmont, S.C.

“I was the biggest point guard anybody had ever seen,” said Mangum, currently listed at 6-2, 275. “But I could really handle the ball. I can really play basketball now.”

It wasn’t until his junior year that he tried football, where he was great right away as a defensive lineman.

“Karate helped so much with the hand-eye coordination, being able to use your hands with quick, precise movements to fend off (an offensive lineman’s hands), and then being able to react to their body movements with leverage and positioning — that was all like second nature to me by the time I tried football,” said Mangum, who stopped practicing karate in his mid-teens.

“Then the basketball helped me be quicker because I was this big guy guarding all these smaller quick guards. I had to get quicker. I had to have good footwork as a guard.”

Several colleges quickly offered scholarships. He chose Wofford in Spartanburg, S.C., where he spent the next five years. In 2019, after receiving a medical waiver for another year of eligibility (he tore his meniscus in first game as a senior at Wofford), he transferred to USF, then ended up with another year of eligibility because of coronavirus in 2020.

Add it up and that’s seven years of college football for Mangum. He currently has 21 tackles through seven games for the Bulls, who play at East Carolina on Thursday night.

Bowers says Mangum will get some looks from the NFL because of his strength (bench presses more than 400 pounds, squats around 450), quickness and his unique attributes from karate and basketball. “He’s a little different,” Bowers said. “But different in all the good ways.”

He’s also highly motivated, particularly now that his father is gone and he sees the need to take on more responsibility.

“I want to get in the league and support my family and also give back to the community with a mentoring program for athletes heading to college,” said Mangum, who is on the American Athletic Conference all-academic team and will earn his master’s in entrepreneurship and applied technologies in December. “I want to help others like my family and coaches have helped me.”

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