Mann carrying on proud tradition
Latest standout at ‘Punter U’ on pace to rewrite record book
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Braden Mann is a Texas A&M football historian, at least when it comes to the Aggies’ colorful history of remarkable punting — in college and beyond.
“He’s a legend,” Mann said of former A&M punter Steve O’Neal and his 98-yard boot for the New York Jets in 1969. “Longest punt in the NFL.”
A&M has been home to O’Neal; former Texans punter Shane Lechler; and the late Yale Lary, the only Aggie in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, among other notables who have earned the university the nickname “Punter U.”
Mann, a former Cy-Fair standout, has only been the Aggies’ starting punter for half a season, but he’s well on his way to legendary status. A week ago in the Aggies’ victory over Kentucky, Mann had an 82-yard punt, third-longest in program history and longest since 1944.
“I got the roll of a lifetime,” said Mann, who has downplayed the many accolades suddenly rolling his way.
Two weeks earlier, he had the game of a lifetime at Alabama, setting an NCAA record for average yards per punt in a game with 60.8 on five kicks.
“He’s talented at everything he does,” said A&M running back Trayveon Williams, Mann’s roommate. “Having a guy who can flip the field like he can is really helping us.”
Mann’s first half was one for the record books. Through six
games, he easily leads the NCAA in punting average at 54.9 yards on 23 kicks. He’s more than 8 yards ahead of his closest competitor in the SEC, LSU’s Zach Von Rosenberg (47.3).
Mann and the No. 22 Aggies (4-2, 2-1 SEC) visit South Carolina (3-2, 2-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday to kick off the second half of the regular season, and the punting game is one area firstyear coach Jimbo Fisher doesn’t have to worry about.
Fisher overhauled plenty of positions when he arrived from Florida State last winter, but he quickly realized he didn’t need to mess with the punter. Fisher said kickers and punters can grow bored and like golfers and start tinkering with their delivery.
“I tell Braden every day, ‘Don’t get bored, keep doing exactly what you’re doing,’ ” Fisher said. “Believe it or not, it’s a lot harder to do than people think, because you take it for granted or you can over-focus.
“But he’s just relaxing, trusting the process, hitting the ball and not getting bored.”
Back at Cy-Fair, Mann (511, 190) intended on playing linebacker for the Bobcats — and beyond.
“I wanted to play middle linebacker in college,” Mann said with a smile, “but clearly I’m a little smaller than your average linebacker.”
He also fractured his back twice, in seventh grade and three years later as a sophomore at Cy-Fair.
“But I still wanted to play college football, so I figured I would just switch to kicker and punter,” Mann said.
That strategy paid off with a scholarship to A&M two years ago. The junior spent his first two seasons backing up Shane Tripucka, but it was worth the wait for Mann and the Aggies. His current punting average would snap the NCAA single-season record by more than 3 yards.
Mann needs one more punt of 60-plus yards to tie the NCAA single-season record of 13 set by Wake Forest’s Ryan Plackemeier in 2005.
Not only is Mann on the small side for a college linebacker, he’s smaller than most punters in college and the pros, making his leg strength that much more eye-opening.
“I think I’m the smallest punter in the SEC right now,” Mann said. “When I was in high school I’d see guys (in college) who were 6-3, 6-4 with that long frame. I’ve got that chip on my shoulder, and I knew I needed to make up for my size.
“I knew if I don’t have a long leg, I had to have a faster leg.”
Braden Mann, who also handles kickoff duties for the Aggies, has been a difference maker in the field-position game. He needs one more punt of 60-plus yards to tie the NCAA single-season record.
Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher says he tells Mann every day to “keep doing exactly what you’re doing.”