TAMPA — When he was just a boy in Texas, Jaren Mangham stood next to his grandmother, Dianne Stewart, and they cooked together for hours. Jambalaya. Catfish. Chicken. Gumbo.
In the process, Mangham, who said he loved his grandmother with all his heart, fell in love with cooking.
Someday, he said Monday afternoon, he’s going to open a restaurant featuring his grandmother’s recipes “because I want the world to taste the unbelievable dishes she created. I want to honor her memory.” Stewart passed away in September 2020 after a long battle with cancer.
“We watched her fight it for six years,” Mangham said. “She was a tough, independent, hard-working woman. I admired her so much. She inspires me to do my best at everything I do.”
Mangham, a junior transfer from Colorado, has drawn on his grandmother for inspiration throughout a challenging season for USF (2-6, 1-3 in the American Athletic Conference), one in which he has shined.
Through eight games, the running back has scored 13 touchdowns to rank No. 5 in the country while rushing for 483 yards on 108 carries. He scored at least one touchdown in each of the past seven games and remains on pace to break USF’s single-season rushing touchdown record of 18 set by Quinton Flowers in 2016.
More importantly, Mangham said, he couldn’t be happier to be at USF and playing for head coach Jeff Scott.
“Coach Scott is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in my life,” Mangham said. “He actually cares about the players more than anything else, and that means more to me than anything.”
The sentiment comes after a frustrating road the past few years.
Mangham — who ESPN ranked the No. 37 athlete prospect in the nation coming out of powerhouse Detroit Cass Tech in 2019 (the family moved from Texas to Detroit in 2014) — chose Colorado over 57 other offers.
The 6-foot-2 220-pounder had a solid year as a true freshman, rushing for 441 yards and three touchdowns before getting named to the Pac 12 All-Freshman Team.
But then things took a rough turn.
Colorado coach Mel Tucker left the Buffaloes for Michigan State, and the new 2020 regime at Colorado severely cut back Mangham’s role, limiting him to 23 total carries in four games.
Despondent after the death of his grandmother and feeling a little betrayed, Mangham entered the transfer portal.
“USF and Coach Scott showed interest before anyone else, and then they kept showing the most interest,” said Mangham’s father, Jesse Mangham III, a former star linebacker at Bowling Green in the early 1990s. “I said, ‘You need to go to USF, because (Scott) is a guy you can trust.’ And now I have to say, Jaren and all his family couldn’t be happier with the decision. He loves USF.”
Moving forward, Mangham feels the Bulls are going to bust out in a big way. It’s just a matter of time.
“This team remains united and strong,” he said. “We’re getting better and better with every passing week, no matter how tough it has been at times.”
Next up on the schedule is Saturday’s game against yet another ranked team, No. 20 Houston (7-1, 5-0). In its previous eight games, USF lost four times to teams that were at one time ranked in the top 25: North Carolina State, Florida, BYU and SMU, ultimately making it one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Sandwiched between those games was a heartbreaking 32-31, last-minute loss to Tulsa, a game USF might have won if the Golden Hurricane had not stuffed Mangham on a fourth-and-one attempt at the Bulls’ 42-yard line with four minutes remaining.
“I felt very confident in that situation with Jaren Mangham to get that yard,” Scott said after the game. “I decided to be aggressive in that situation. Get the yard and run out the clock, that was the thinking. That is on me.”
Later that week, Scott said maybe he should have called a different play but still intimated that the ball probably would have been handed to Mangham, because, “he’s a guy we can trust and count on.”
Mangham appreciates the confidence the coaches have in him and said everybody needs to keep an eye on this team.
He doesn’t make a practice of looking into the future but did promise that if the Bulls end up ranked after next season, he will make a huge meal of his grandmother’s gumbo for everybody.
“It’s a deal,” he said. “It’s a deal.”
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