Mekhi Lang thought he was just getting ready for basketball season.
Lang, now a senior, was in the Archbishop Ryan High School gym, jacking up treys, working on his dribble and going through drills when he started talking with football coach Frank McArdle.
“He told me that I’m 6-foot-1, and there aren’t a lot of guys that size playing in the NBA,” Lang said. “But he knows defensive backs, and that’s the perfect height for one of them. I wasn’t sure at first.
“I was a little scared at first, scared I’d get run over. And I did. The first few practices, I was getting run over. But now, I love football. That conversation changed my life.”
It also changed the fortunes of the Raiders.
Lang has been patrolling the defensive backfield for the past two seasons at Ryan and he’s become a good one. He usually lines up against the top players on the field and uses his natural speed and instincts to handle his man. But he still needs a little help at times, and that comes from a talented underclassman who has broken out as a stud player this year.
“Tyreek Chappell is young, but he’s been playing football a lot longer than me, I’ve only been playing one year,” Lang said. “We talk a lot in the huddle and stuff, and I’ll usually cover the better guy because he does a lot on offense. He helps me a lot, and I try to help me. We work well together.”
The pair will get a chance to get back at it on Thanksgiving morning when the Raiders travel to George Washington for the annual showdown. Kickoff is slated for 10 a.m.
The Eagles were much improved this year, winning seven games and advancing to the Public League quarterfinals. The Raiders were also improved, so the rivalry clash should be an entertaining one. And for Lang, it’s his first chance at playing in front of the massive crowd in the battle of the Far Northeast.
“I was hurt last year, so I didn’t play,” said Lang, who grew up in Frankford and now lives by Ryan. “I had a concussion. But I was there, and it was really fun. It’s a fun game. It’s a huge game for the school, for both schools. And it could be the last game for a lot of us.”
Last high school football game, anyway.
Lang hopes to play football in college, where he sees himself majoring in business and sports management because he wants to have a career in athletics. But once football season is over, he might return to basketball.
He played last year where he was known for being a good defender. But basketball season might have to wait a few weeks.
“I’m having some knee problems, so I have to do some rehab before I play,” Lang said. “It’s not too bad. A little sore. You can see it’s not great. I’m going to have to get better, make sure it gets stronger.
“Football is my sport now and it’s made me a better basketball player. I have to stay in front of my guy and guard him. I’m the kind of basketball player that has to be in your face, talking and outworking the guy. Football has helped with that.”
And he’s enjoying a lot of success in his new sport.
Lang’s primary position is cornerback, and this year he’s been able to shut down some top-notch wideouts whom he plays in the Catholic League. When you play teams that like to throw, including Father Judge, St. Joe’s Prep and La Salle, you’re going to see a lot of action.
And this year, he’s become a weapon on offense. He’s not the primary target of senior signal caller Jahlil Sanders, but he’s working his way into the rotation and thus far on the season has accounted for just over 300 yards of offense.
“Offense is fun but I’m more of a defensive player,” Lang said. “The offense is good, we have a lot of playmakers and when I’m out there, a lot of people think Tyreek is getting the ball. So that definitely helps me out when I’m getting it.”
Offense, defense, whatever he can do, he’s ready to do. Especially if it means helping the Raiders knock off Washington.
He’s amped because he didn’t get to play last year and he hopes he makes his only Thanksgiving Day game a memorable one.
“I just want to win and have fun,” Lang said. “Football has really changed my life, and I want to play as many games as I can. It’s been a great year, and we want to keep it going. Everyone comes out to this game, we want to show everyone what we can do.”