BLOOMINGTON — The spotlight finds Indiana's Nick Mangieri and he blinks. It happens. Not everyone is comfortable with becoming a star, as is happening with this sophomore defensive lineman.
“I'm a little nervous,” he says from Memorial Stadium's Henke Hall of Champions.
Mangieri has rotated between defensive tackle and defensive end. Normally, you play one position or the other, but the 6-foot-5, 262-pound Mangieri defies the norm, and IU seeks to take maximum advantage.
“It's more physical inside,” he says. “You have two guys blocking you. I'm not used to that.
“It doesn't matter as long as I'm in there.”
Mangieri does not warm to celebrity-hood like, say, teammate Shane Wynn. He doesn't give two-minute answers to 10-second questions when five seconds will do. He is a substance-over-style guy, although more and more he's showing both.
Case in point No. 1: Mangieri's diving interception against Bowling Green Saturday. He was on a delayed pass rush from defensive end. He went after quarterback Matt Johnson saw the pass, ran toward receiver Chris Gallon and scooped up the ball when IU cornerback Tim Bennett ripped it free.
“You look at that interception,” defensive coordinator Doug Mallory says, “and it speaks volumes about how that young man plays. He's a high-motor guy. A high-energy guy.”
Case in point No. 2: Mangieri earned IU's Defensive Player of the Game award for his performance against Bowling Green. Switching back and forth from defensive tackle to defensive end, he had four tackles, one sack and knocked down two passes, plus the interception.
“He was very active playing inside and outside,” coach Kevin Wilson says. “He has been a very good player early in his career. He has a lot of work to do. He can be very, very good as he moves forward. I appreciate the way he's practiced.”
Practicing hard has always been a Mangieri family trait. Older brother P.J. had it as a Nebraska long snapper. So did a pair of linebacker uncles, Ed and Dan Sutton, who played at Northwestern. Ed also played five years in the NFL. A pair of younger brothers, Luke and Charlie, already show Division I ability.
“He comes from a very athletic family,” Wilson says. “He's very skilled. He's got a knack of getting to balls.
“He's still young. We didn't redshirt him (last year), so he's a true sophomore. He's got a lot of growth potential. He's stronger, practices hard, has good energy. He's a long way from being an upper level D-end, but he's off to a good start in his career.”
For the season, Mangieri has a team-leading 3.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks. No Hoosier has totaled more than five sacks since 2009. IU coaches are pushing for better pass rushers, and the hope is Mangieri can be a key part.
“Mangieri gives great edge pressure,” Mallory says. “Sometimes we bunch him inside. He's a little under-sized there, but he gives you more movement.
“They all need to come on. We can't blitz every play. We've got to put more pressure on the quarterback.”
Mangieri was a two-way threat at Peoria Dunlap High School in Illinois. As a senior tight end -- actually more of an outside receiver -- he caught 47 passes for 682 yards and five touchdowns. He also thrived at linebacker and earned all-state honors. But it was always understood he'd be a defensive player at IU, which needed quality players on that side of the ball in the worst possible way.
“I like defense a lot,” he says. “I like being able to stop the run, get after the run.
“There are a lot of different things you can do on offense. I had fun on offense. But the coaches here thought I'd be better off on defense. I agree with them. I'm having a good time on defense.”
Mangieri, who came to Bloomington weighing 235 pounds, had to grow into his defensive line role, which meant eating more. A lot more.
“The coaches thought when they recruited me I could carry the weight,” he says. “It's been a struggle putting it on. Sitting with the strength coaches and having to eat all the food.”
A bigger Mangieri is not a slower one.
“It's made me faster. I have more muscle. I'm more explosive.”
Adds Wilson: “He's stronger, more mature, now that he's a year and a half in the program. He's just physically better in what he's doing.”
Last year, despite never having played defensive line before, Mangieri had 12 tackles in 10 games.
“In high school I never rushed the quarterback,” he says. “Everything the coaches taught us was new to me. It took a while to understand it.”
Mangieri understands it now. He's next chance to prove it is Saturday night against Missouri (2-0). The Hoosiers (2-1) look to end non-conference play with a victory over a SEC team.
“We're going all out,” Mangieri says. “We have a lot to prove. We have a lot to work on. We can do a lot better. The defense is playing with a lot of confidence.”
And then, as the spotlight dims, a final question comes. It's about Missouri. Mangeiri reverts to short-is-good form.
“They look pretty solid,” he says without blinking.