The long journey was worth it.
The Pine View Panthers are off to an 8-2 start and headed the 3AA quarterfinals after a 58-21 victory over Ben Lomond last week.
A big part of the Panthers’ success this season can be attributed to brothers Jacob and D’Angelo Mpungi.
Jacob, a junior, rushed for 233 yards and four touchdowns last week and has carried the offense after starting running back Kawika Santiago went down with a significant injury at the start of the season.
Not really having a backup for Santiago, Jacob was asked to step in to see what he could do.
“Jacob was actually playing some corner and some wide receiver for us at the start of the season. But after Santiago got hurt, I tried to get him to play running back but it wasn’t easy,” Pine View head coach Ray Hosner says with a big smile. “I talked to his uncle who was thinking the same thing and so after we talked to Jacob about it, he decided to try it out, and we’re glad he did.”
In his debut the following week after Santiago’s injury, Jacob ran for 195 yards to lead the Panthers to a 24-7 road victory over Manti.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder has already rushed for 1,184 yards to go with 13 touchdowns and is averaging a mind-boggling 8.2 yards per carry.
“I owe it all to my offensive line,” Jacob says as he tries to deflect attention. “They do all the work and make me look better than I probably am. But last week was a lot of fun. It felt like I was almost in a video game or something.”
D’Angelo, a senior, is one of the top corners in all of 3AA and is trusted with locking down the opposing teams’ best receivers.
“I’m up for the challenge; I look forward to that every week,” he says with a big grin. “It’s nice to know that my teammates and coaches trust me out there.”
“We just call him ‘D,’” Hosner says. “D’Angelo is a great corner and is somebody that we fully trust. Not many defensive backs are like that at the high school level. Usually, coaches have to rotate coverages to help them over the top or underneath but not with D’Angelo. We just put him out there on an island and he does his job.”
The senior is second on the team with three interceptions and fourth in tackles. Those stats are a bit skewed as teams have been shying away from throwing the ball his way.
“Hopefully by the time the season ends, I can pass ‘Screech’ (Dylan Hendrickson) for the most interceptions,” D’Angelo says jokingly. “Dylan may be taller than I am, but I got better hands. We’re good friends, so I’m allowed to say that.”
That charisma is something that Hosner enjoys about the Mpungi brothers — even though it sometimes comes at his own expense.
“Those guys are great kids. They are always fun and upbeat and are always making fun of the way that I talk,” Hosner says of his New York accent. “Jacob imitates me the most and it’s fun to listen to him, especially when he gets rolling. But the second they step on the field, they are serious and leave it out on the field.”
Having an opportunity to play under the lights is something that some players can take for granted. Not for the Mpungi brothers. Growing up in Washington, D.C., Jacob and D’Angelo didn’t always have the best influences. And with their mother going through some hard times, the two ended up staying with their uncle in South Jordan before eventually moving to St. George.
After making some changes and doing well in school, D’Angelo went back to D.C while Jacob stayed in Utah. After a while, D’Angelo was sent back to Utah by his mom so that he could stay out of trouble and be raised in a better environment.
Now that they’re both making big plays on the field, D’Angelo and Jacob are beginning to receive attention from college coaches.
Washington, ranked fourth in the country and coming off a key Pac-12 win over Utah last weekend in Salt Lake City, was the first to offer Jacob a scholarship and other schools such as Utah and BYU have followed suit.
“The crazy thing is that he’s doing all of this with a position that was relatively new to him,” Hosner says. “I can’t even imagine what he would be like this year if he would have had the entire offseason before stepping in like he has. Luckily, he’s a natural.”
While the distance from D.C. to St. George makes it hard for the family to see each other, Jacob and D’Angelo stay in close contact over the phone and on social media.
“Their family did come out to a game last year and we’re hoping to get them to come for a game this year,” Hosner says. “Hopefully now we can keep winning and bring their family to the championship game. Now wouldn’t that be something special.”