Croot Loops: LB Aaron Mends

Mends will hit you and you will stay hit

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Really great story on Aaron Mends from the Kansas City Star (click here).

Some of the highlights:

-- Mends' parents, Anne and Othello, grew up in Ghana, a small country in western Africa.

-- Mends didn't know much about the game, basically jumping into it when he was in eighth grade.

-- He said this: “I didn’t care where I played,” Mends says. “I was going to kick some (rear) somewhere on the field.”

-- He did this: Five years after his first football practice, Mends is an all-state linebacker, a four-time letterman and such a punishing hitter that Winnetonka coaches keep his highlight videos only a few clicks away.

-- Mends was voted team captain.

-- He is working toward his fourth straight semester with a grade point average above 3.5.

-- His dad moved back to Ghana 10 years ago, leaving Aaron, his mom and three sisters (Aaron and his father text, but haven't seen each other for a year, according to the post).

-- Mends said this, too: "“Football drives me to do well in school because I want to do big things,” Mends says. “Football made a path for me to be better in life.”

He didn't seem to leave the field for Winneotonka High School. His career totals include 210 tackles, with 1,790 rushing yards, 140 receiving yards and 29 total touchdowns. As a senior he recorded 50 tackles, with 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, one forced fumble and a pass break-up. At running back, Mends rushed 69 times for 285 yards and five touchdowns, while collecting six receptions for 28 yards.

The competition for Mends was Iowa State and North Dakota State. He is a 6-0 linebacker, so that probably kept the big offers from coming.

Winnetonka coach Sterling Edwards told "Well, I mean, in my 17 years of coaching, he's the closest thing to a freak that I've ever seen physically. Since I met him as an eighth grader, he's just been a specimen. At first, he kind of relied on just always being the biggest, fastest kid, but it's been fun to watch him develop into a young man over the last four years. He knows how to play the game of football now as opposed to just being the biggest guy and faster and stronger than everybody. But he's still a big weight room guy, or a strength and conditioning guy. He squats 600 pounds and he runs a 4.58 forty, so he's got a great combination of strength and speed. He's just a physically gifted young man."

Basics: Winnetonka High School (Kansas City, Mo.), 6-0, 200, linebacker

Dent the depth chart in ’14? — If Mends can help on special teams, yes. That said, who's to say he couldn't come in and earn a spot on the LB depth chart, which, as you know, will include three new starters and will need young depth to come through. The more you think about it, the LB position kind of needs a freshman to move in and earn a spot. Physically, Mends might be the most ready.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison — Anthony Hitchens (under-tall LB with RB experience and who can hit) scouting snippet — Mends has the size, strength and range/playing speed for the outside linebacker position at the BCS level of play; his frame appears capable of supporting additional bulk over time; displays the upper body playing strength to play strong at the point of attack. We see the agility and balance needed to change direction and make plays to the sideline. . . . Is a strong wrap tackler with knock'em back leverage and finish; is effective in space, not allowing cheap yards after contact. . . . Displays good instincts and key/diagnosis reaction skills when defending against the run; is quick off the mark, filling gaps and working through traffic and off the edge; shows the physical playing strength needed to "take on" and defeat blockers at the point; can stack the inside run and make plays in tight spaces.

What Iowa said . . .

Head coach Kirk Ferentz on linebacker being an emphasis in this class — “Having three seniors is good news and bad news there. The other factor there at that position, we've lost a couple of players over the last year too medical redshirts, so kind of behind-the-scenes that number was growing, besides the obvious three guys that we had that are seniors and the four guys that we have signed, we really think are good football players. They're the kind of guys that we've played with in the past. And the key for them is to continue to develop and get on that. Hopefully, we'll help our depth there because we were pretty lean at that position." 

Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson: [Interesting sidenote: Mends was recruited by WR coach Bobby Kennedy, who handles the Kansas City area for Iowa.] “He can run. He was another guy who saw in our camp. He was banged up his senior year. He's not the biggest guy. He's 6-feet, 200-and-whatever pounds. He can run and he'll hit you. Once he gets into a college weight room and puts on a little size, you can't teach speed and quickness. That's what he has. Same with Parker [Hesse]. With those linebackers, that's what we're trying to do. Same with the D-line. We're trying to improve our speed and athleticism on that side of the ball.” [Mends is strictly a linebacker, by the way, probably a middle linebacker.]

What I think (FWIW, obviously) . . .

Check the YouTubes and enjoy the play where he rips the ball out of a running back's arms and goes the distance. That was a fun play. One little technique thing, Mends shuffles well. He seems to be conscious of gaining ground on the ball when he's tracking a play. He also showed he can time blitzes well, something, let's face it, he might have to rely on in the Big Ten being a smaller linebacker body. Size and strength aren't the same thing. Mends is a muscleball, but he is listed at 6-0, which probably means 5-10. Mends hits people and they stay hit. He also tracks QBs well, which is invaluable in this age of the spread/zone read/running QB.

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