ALAMEDA — It’s not often a football player receives only two scholarship offers for college and then gets selected in the top five picks on the NFL draft four years later.
And really, Khalil Mack and his family might not have it any other way. He was selected fifth overall by the Oakland Raiders, a long stretch from his humble beginnings.
The son of an elementary school teacher and a youth counselor from the tropical climate of Fort Pierce, Florida, Mack is already adjusting to the Bay Area.
No doubt, his time spent in Buffalo was good and fun, but Mack looks forward to the warmer, snowless weather:
“My first day in Buffalo, it was like 50 degrees in October. Everyone was in shorts and tank tops, I was confused. I was wearing probably the biggest jacket I ever could have. And people were looking at me like I was crazy.”
The first time his mother, Yolanda Mack, visited in Buffalo, she felt the same chill Mack did:
“I was cold, it was much different than Florida, where I was born and raised.”
Mother knows best, that’s the way Khalil feels. He decided to play out his senior year of college on the advice of his mom while being projected as a fourth-round pick.
Even then, Yolanda says he takes after his father, Sandy Mack Sr., 100 percent:
“I taught my boys how to be competitive. We like to win. He has an older brother that he liked to bump up against, there was always a competitive spirit.”
According to his father, there was one point where he knew Khalil was going to be different:
“Once he started beating his older brother in basketball, that was it.”
The elder Mack saw a major transformation in his son from his sophomore to senior years in high school. Khalil grew five to six inches in that time, going from what looked like an undersized shooting guard to the height and weight of a college small forward.
Khalil was a jack of all trades, according to his family, and even a master of some. He was obviously a great football player, but along with basketball, he was a baseball star too.
He was focused on basketball until he tore his patella tendon during his sophomore year and began playing high school football as a junior.
The late start ultimately hurt Mack’s recruitment status, as he watched his friends receive scholarships to the University of Miami and the University of South Florida.
Mack was far from a hot item back then. He was being recruited by Buffalo and Liberty College in Virginia. Coach Robert Wimberly represented Liberty, and was hot on Mack’s talent.
The entire Mack family was skeptical of Buffalo, but when Wimberly decided to join the coaching staff in Buffalo just before Mack had made his decision, it became too easy.
Mack was going to play for the Bills, from the University of Buffalo.
Mack said it was just one step in a long journey, with his NFL dream originating in Pop Warner football:
“You see guys like Donovan McNabb, and I wore No.m 5, and I played for the Eagles. It was a dream then, just thinking that I could possibly play football in the NFL. And I’m here now.”
Surely Mark Morrison didn’t have the slightest clue of who Khalil was when he wrote he 1996 classic “Return of the Mack.” But that doesn’t matter, since there’s not any return. Not yet.
But Mack is excited to be in California for the first time in his life, the first time he’s been anywhere west of Texas.
Going against and taking Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers down is something Mack says he’s eager for:
“No doubt, I can’t wait. I want to go out there and play against some of the best. But in order to get to that point, I still have to put in a lot of work. I’m ready to do that.”
Mack is charming, well-mannered and appears to be adjusting well to the first days of his NFL career. He paid the dues to get here, now he has to pay the dues to stay. That’s easier said than done.
Maybe he’ll be leaning on mama Mack for advice in the future, like when she advised him to stay in Buffalo during his senior year. Perhaps, as Mack said, mother does know best:
“She knows she’s right. She’s a very humble person and I’m glad I took that advice and ran with it.”
It’s that sort of charm and humility that the Raiders fell in love with, making them unequivocally certain that Khalil Mack had to come to Oakland.
And for the loyal fans of Raider Nation, they’ve already begun to fall for the dream of a defense led by Mack.