Willows-Mangum mashup_web.jpg

Budding friendship for future Harvard teammates can wait until Saturday

Both Abe Willows and Max Mangum know they will become fast friends. Just not Friday night.

Willows, Lake Travis’ star running back, and Mangum, Westlake’s top defensive back, will spend Friday night trying to bludgeon each other into submission, willing their teams to victory in the annual Battle of the Lakes. After that, they’ll join the same team, getting the chance to fulfill some big dreams: playing college football while getting an Ivy League education at Harvard.

“It has always been a dream,” Mangum said. “There’s simply no combination of football and academics that could possibly top Harvard.”

For Willows, the sentiments are similar. He hoped to play football at a school more known for football, but the offers didn’t come following his 1,000-yard junior season.

“For me at that point it was about getting the best education I could with football,” he said.

If his path hadn’t been obvious before, it was as soon as he visited the Harvard campus.

“It just seems like it was pointed in the right direction at the right time,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go to an Ivy League school. The coaches treated me and my mom so well. They have everything I’m looking for.”

Both Willows and Mangum know they’ll get a world class education. They’ve got some time to settle on a study path, but – as you might expect of a Harvard man – they’ve got an idea of where they might start.

“They have a one-and-a-half-year [plan] where you do some general courses to try and figure out what you want to do study, but most of the football players do economics, so we’ll see,” Mangum said.

Willows may not be certain of his final field of study but he thinks he wants to remain connected to the sports world.

“It’s going to be business-related,” Willows said. “I don’t know exactly what goes into this, but sports agency would be cool, that’s something I’m interested in. Or international business. I want to kind of stay related to sports, football.”

While Willows and Mangum chose Harvard for the education, the school doesn’t limit its success to the classroom. Harvard has been the class of the Ivy League gridiron as well. The Crimson have won eight Ivy titles including the last two. Dating back to 2013, Harvard has won 19 straight games.

Willows and Mangum won’t be the only Central Texans on the Harvard roster next year. Luke Hutton, a 2012 Lake Travis graduate, ranks fourth on the team in tackles as a sophomore linebacker this season. Austin High graduate Daniel Laden is a sophomore offensive linemen. While Mangum doesn’t know Hutton or Laden that well yet, he’s looking forward to the idea of getting to know Willows. Even better since they’ll be part of the same team instead of competing against each other.

“It’s awesome to have two guys from the same area, just down the road really, go to the same spot,” he said. “Even if I don’t know him that well right now, we play the same brand of football, we’re from the same area, we will know each other.”

But there’s still the not-so-little matter of Friday’s game.

“It will be cool to get to know him when we get to Cambridge, but when it comes to Friday, that’s strictly business,” Willows said.

“I’m sure he’s a nice guy and he’s great and I’m sure we’ll get along just fine…after this week,” echoed Mangum.

The friendship can wait, at least for another 48 minutes or so.