Texas A&M has only five seniors listed on its roster — four on scholarship and one walk-on — and Saturday’s home matchup against South Carolina will be their last in Kyle Field.
For punter Braden Mann, Saturday’s game is especially bittersweet because Kyle Field is where his college career began. His first punt for the Aggies came on Sept. 3, 2016, in A&M’s 31-24 overtime win over UCLA.
“My legs were shaking; I was nervous, just a scared little freshman,” Mann said. “It’s crazy to think that four years is gone.”
That punt started what has been an illustrious career for Mann. He is currently first in the NCAA with an average of 49 yards per punt. He was a Ray Guy Award winner and a unanimous All-American after accumulating 2,549 punting yards and 5,138 kicking yards last season.
Mann enrolled early at A&M in January of 2016, along with his now-roommate Colton Prater, a fellow senior. Prater took over as center this season after Erik McCoy’s departure to the NFL.
Sharing his final game at Kyle Field with Prater will make the day more emotional, Mann said.
“We’ve been through it with each other for four-and-a-half years, so it’s going to be a crazy experience,” Mann said.
Saturday’s game will also be the last Kyle Field outing of defensive backs Roney Elam and Charles Oliver, and defensive lineman Mitchell Howard.
Elam recorded two interceptions and eight tackles over the first three games of the season but has not seen any playing time since, while Oliver has accumulated 15 tackles in seven games, bringing his current career total to 78.
Howard, the lone walk-on senior, hasn’t seen much playing time in his collegiate career. However, a 45-14 win over UTSA on Nov. 2 allowed him to boost his stat line with an eight-yard sack of quarterback Jordan Weeks in the fourth quarter, which caused a fumble.
Junior quarterback Kellen Mond said that while there are just a handful of seniors on A&M’s roster, the effect they have had on the team has been huge.
“Braden Mann and some of those other guys showed us the ropes and help us continue to grow as players on the field,” Mond said. “They’re leaders on and off the field; they lead by example.”
The seniors will lead the Aggies one last time at Kyle Field as they take on the Gamecocks at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Mond said he couldn’t think of a better way to send out the seniors since the last time that A&M hosted South Carolina, Kyle Field was “electric.”
“That was one of the loudest environments I ever played in,” Mond said.
The night game, in combination with his last time playing at Kyle Field, will make Saturday emotional for Mann.
“Hopefully I keep [my emotions] in check at least until after the game,” Mann said. “I think it’ll be emotional, especially at the end because it’s a night game in Kyle, my last one. It’s going to be a lot of fun, though.”