Junior running back Melvin Mensah may not have the height or speed that big-time college football scouts would consider ideal. However, Highland Park High School football coach Jonathan Brown said Mensah has qualities neither a tape measure nor a stopwatch can measure—heart.

The 5-foot-7, 169-pound Mensah is a big part of the reason Highland is 2-1 this season and tied with Central for first place in the Twin Cities Gold Division. In games against Bloomington Kennedy and Johnson, he had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, 80 yards rushing on 12 carries and five pass receptions for 20 yards.

Mensah has been so good that he became a regular for the Scots’ football team as a freshman. Highland has been easing him back into a normal workload after he was sidelined with a broken leg halfway through last season. Mensah said he is back at 100 percent now and is determined to eventually play Division I college football.

“That’s my goal,” he said. “I’m not going to stop until I get there.”

Mensah is plenty strong due to an ultra-dedicated work ethic in the weight room, where Brown said he can squat 360 pounds. That kind of strength enables Mensah to do the heavy-duty running between tackles. When he hits the line, the pile tends to move in the direction the Scots want to go.

highland football mensah
Highland Park junior Melvin Mensah runs through drills during practice. Photo by Brad Stauffer

He is more than capable of breaking off a big gainer. He has good vision that enables him to avoid defenders, and knows how to read his blocks to gain yardage quickly.

Mensah can also catch the ball out of the backfield and will sometimes be lined up in the slot to take advantage of his receiving skills. In short, Brown said Mensah is an exceptional all-around football player.

“He’s quick and fast and efficient,” Brown said. “He’s prepared to play and he knows how to practice. He’s the most coachable kid on the team.”

“He’s quick and fast and efficient,” Brown said. “He’s prepared to play and he knows how to practice. He’s the most coachable kid on the team.”

Mensah said he’s not worried about his lack of size. “I’m just a smaller guy,” he said, adding that he’s more than capable of “lowering a shoulder into people” when the occasion calls for it. “I just have to do my best with the (skills) I do have,” he said.

He said he tries to emulate former NFL running back and receiver Reggie Bush’s game. “He had gears,” he said about Bush’s running ability. “He’d switch those gears and turn on his breakaway speed. Nobody could catch him when he did that.”

Mensah has also stepped up as a team leader and looks to help his teammates improve their own game. “I don’t care how big you are, I’m going to tell you how to make things better,” he said. “I just want our guys to know that the sky’s the limit (for the team).”

That cuts both ways. “And I want them to do the same for me,” he said. “I can take constructive criticism.”

Brown said Mensah’s quest for excellence can be found in the classroom as well as the gridiron. He sports a 3.8 GPA and wants to study sports medicine in college. “He takes great pride in being a really good student,” Brown said.

Mensah refers to Brown as a straight-shooting coach. “He’s not going to sugarcoat what he says, no matter what,” Mensah said. “He’ll say, ‘That was fine, but you know you can do a little better.’ He always wants you to be looking to improve.”

— Bill Wagner


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