Every young boy growing up in New York City knows that basketball is the sport that every city kid plays. The successes of a high school phenomenon such as Kobe Bryant or LeBron James provide kids in the big city with a dream to chase.
Basketball is the sport that eclipses all other sports in New York City. Even a popular sport such as football lives in the shadows. City football garners very little attention compared to the game played in the suburbs and rural areas. For a high school city football player to garner any attention from college recruiters they may have had to beat some overwhelming odds. Penn senior Mike Sangobowale faced those odds and rose to the challenge.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Sangobowale was introduced to basketball as a young kid. The popularity of the sport in the city could draw many young boys and girls into an early basketball career.
"Football was nowhere near as big as basketball in New York City. I played basketball and there were so many more people at basketball games than there were at football games. New York City is considered probably one of the best cities for high school basketball so there are so many more leagues and tournaments that you can play in. I grew up leaning more towards basketball in college than football because I've been playing basketball for so long I can't remember when I started. That was always something that I was always good at."
For years, basketball seemed to be the way to go for Sangobowale until the introduction of football into his life changed his views on the sport fairly quickly. He began to see that his talents and size were perfect for football. The influence of an older brother who later went on to play college football made Sangobowale's choice to pursue football instead of basketball easier.
"My older brother was actually the one who got me into football. When I was younger I got to see him doing camps and stuff like that over the summer. We would always be outside throwing passes and running around. He played some college ball and I guess that whole experience is what got me into the sport initially."
Introduced to the sport as a young kid, Sangobowale knew that he wanted to play competitively. City football, however, is far from popular and leagues are much less numerous than in other areas. So when Sangobowale finally hit eighth grade, he was anxious to begin his football career. Things were not to be made simple for the young boy, however.
"I wanted to start playing football when I was in eighth grade but I was too big to play on the eighth grade team. I actually got to play when I got into my freshman year of high school."
Despite the setback, Sangobowale had a very successful high school career. In 2000, he was chosen to play in the All-City and All-Star football games. Though he did play basketball, and was a three year letterwinner for Fordham Prep, Sangobowale had no doubt in which sport his future lay.
"Since I began playing football, I've always wanted to play collegiately. Growing up, I saw playing in college as an opportunity to get a good education, and possibly one that could be free depending on whatever school you went to. That was something that I always saw as an option. My parents always told me that I should get a college degree and my coaches always told me that I was good enough athletically to play at the next level."
All-city and All-Star accolades were bound to attract attention to the Fordham Prep student-athlete, despite the hype of high school basketball. Sangobowale entered his senior year being recruited very heavily by a number of Atlantic 10 schools. An exceptional student, with his future and long term goals on his mind, Sangobowale knew immediately that he wasn't interested in playing for those schools. Academics came first.
"I was recruited by a lot of teams in the Atlantic 10. Pretty early I decided that I wasn't going to go that route because I was focused more on my academics."
Eventually, Sangobowale was sold by the combination of athletics and academics provided by the University of Pennsylvania. He entered his college career with a definite plan, both academically and athletically.
Sangobowale approaches his academics at Penn with the same intensity as his athletics. Obviously not afraid to step up to the challenge of a major workload on top a busy playing schedule, he is a cognitive science major with a concentration in neuroscience. Sangobowale has intentions of using his major to take him onto the next level graduate school.
"My approach to my cognitive science major is that my long term goal is to be a psychologist. My concentration in cognitive science is neuroscience, which is all about the brain; I might as well learn as much stuff as I can now so that I have information that can help me later on down the line. Basically it will give me a better understanding of what I will have to learn later in my academic career."
Sangobowale's football career at Penn has been just as impressive as his academics. After earning second-team All-Ivy, recording 38 tackles, seven for a loss, and two and a half sacks in 2003, he has set high goals for his senior season. His stellar work helps to anchor an impressive Penn defense.
Following the Columbia game, Sangobowale was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week for his exceptional play. Recording eight tackles, six of which were solo, and 3.5 tackles which pushed the Lions back a total 14 yards, Sangobowale's stats reflect the stellar career that he has had so far. Statistics don't overstep modesty however.
"Statistically, Columbia was my best game so far. Personally I feel like I have had other games where I felt I played a little better. I felt like there were some things that I could have improved on technically, but statistically it came out pretty well. We still have five more games and I hope to improve on that."
The rest of the season promises to be just as impressive for the senior. Though his main focus right now is on the season ahead, Sangobowale has put some thought into playing football after college.
"I've been playing football for eight years now and I feel like it's something that I've gotten pretty good at. If I have the opportunity to play for a few more years, that's something that I definitely want to do. As of right now I don't know exactly how I want to approach that but if I can play for the next few years that is something that I definitely want to do."
Sangobowale is a man with a plan. If his athletic career does get extended, he is sure to succeed. Either way, his academic career will be pursued and Sangobowale will undoubtedly reach his goal of being a psychologist. Though his college football career is coming to an end, Sangobowale is ready to the tackle the next step, no matter what that step may be.
Written by Matt Valenti, C'06, athletic communications assistant