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Matchup of the Game: Down home recipe



There's only one guy that can give a breakdown on one of the more unique hometown matchups you'll ever see in the NFL. Within the Battle of Ohio in Cleveland this Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) is the turf war for the bragging rights back at West Monroe High School Louisiana.

You ever seen one where the loser has to buy at the local Chilli's?

The 6-7, 325-pound Whitworth, 31, a mountain of Pro Bowler, against the 6-4, 240-pound Mingo, 22, the sixth pick in the draft who has roared off the edge with two sacks in his first three games (one on his first snap as a pro) and is looking at his first NFL start Sunday.

Of course, the screenwriters get their wish. Same town. Same high school. Same college (LSU).

Jerry Arledge, the interim head coach at West Monroe, saw them both as the defensive coordinator there a decade apart. How long ago is that? He used Whitworth on goal-line situations.

"You won't find many people better than Whit and Barkevious Mingo. Great guys. Two outstanding young men," Arledge says Wednesday night on his drive home from practice. "Mingo is one of the great success stories I've ever been a part of."

Even though his accent is southern syrupy, Arledge isn't about to sugarcoat anything. He won't kid anyone. He says Mingo is like a son to him.

"Of course he played defense for me," Arledge says. "We recruited him out of basketball and track. It took all of us. Coaches. The football players that also played basketball. I had him for two weeks before the summer of his junior year when I realized I had to change the scheme. I went from an even front to an odd front, put him on air and the rest is history. Turned him loose most of the time. First year he played football he made all-state."

But Arledge's football head tells him what he thinks will happen.

"I think Whit will win it hands down if he's back fully recovered," Arledge says of the knee. "He's got too much size and too much experience on Mingo.

"He's got to be sure Mingo doesn't beat him to the outside. Whit is an outstanding offensive lineman. Nikki just doesn't have the experience yet and Whit is one of those savvy old players. If he can get his hands on him, that's going to be the key. I don't think he'll be too quick for Whit. At some point he has to turn left or right. He can't just run straight up."

Arledge isn't worried that Mingo will be upset with him because he's giving Whitworth the edge.

"It might motivate him a little more," he says with a laugh. "You've got two great athletes going at it and the thing about it is they're as good people as they are players."

They know each other because when Mingo led West Monroe's little-known basketball team to the Final Four, Whitworth, by this time in the NFL, surprised the team by taking them out to dinner.

"The basketball team doesn't get too much attention," Whitworth says of a school known for its football prominence. "Kind of a way to make them feel special."

Whitworth and Mingo have kept in touch over the years and texted here and there during this past training camp.

"An exceptional guy. Great guy. Always has a smile on his face and always to take on any task and has that attitude. He keeps his head up," Whitworth says. "I was talking to the LSU guys when the draft was rolling around and I was checking on his situation. Everybody down there says this guy wins every sprint, he wins every conditioning drill. He's one of those types of guys, kind of in the same mold as I was when I was there."

Whitworth sees a lot of Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson in Mingo, and Whitworth often went against the 6-7, 270-pound Johnson while he was in the process of building up from a skinny college junior.

"They're very similar body-wise. Mike's a lot thicker now. Earlier in his career he was similar to him. But I see him as a guy like Mike. Coming in Mike was long and rangy and quick off the ball but had to learn some of the other parts of the position and had to put some weight on," Whitworth says. "I see him built the same exact way. Mike's first couple years, he looked really thin out there, too. But he developed into who he is. And Mingo's going to have that same kind of career.

"He's exceptionally fast. You can see it on film. He won't even be in a stance to get off the ball. He'll be standing around, floating around a little bit, and when he goes forward it's exceptionally quick."

Arledge says Whitworth and Mingo are a lot alike even though they come from totally different backgrounds.

"Whit comes from an upper middle class family, but he's got a love of the game. He always played football. When he was 13 he was already probably 6-6," Arledge says. "He's got a great foundation here for college scholarships and he's given back to the community in a big way. He's very popular here and so is Mingo.

"The thing about Mingo is that he's the happiest person in the world. He was very poor, raised by a single mom. He didn't have any money growing up. He had one pair of basketball warmup pants that he wore every day to school and a T-shirt."

But Arledge has never forgotten the shoes. How could you?

"He had a pair of black Nike shoes with a velcro flap across the top," he says. "That's all he could afford. By the end of his junior year, half the student body was wearing what they called 'Mingo Shoes.' What a tribute to a guy and it was because of his personality."

On Sunday at 1 p.m. Arledge and his coaches are going to be watching tape of the next opponent. But they flip back and forth to the NFL games. The players are coming in at 2, but they'll be lifting and working. The coaches will tell them how it comes out between the vet and the guy the coach loves like a son.

"Tell Whit to go get that rookie," Arledge says.

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