After the 2018 season ended for Texas A&M punter Braden Mann, the junior went from a kickoff specialist for the Aggies to the best punter in NCAA history, statistically.
Mann’s 51 yards-per-punt average was the best in the country, and he pinned 19 punts inside the 20-yard line. He subsequently landed the Ray Guy Award, unanimous All-American honors, and the SEC’s special teams player of the year.
With his success putting him on the map for NFL scouts, the junior had the opportunity to either pursue a professional career or use the rest of his eligibility and earn a degree.
He chose the latter.
In 2019, Mann still leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in punting yards per game with 48.9 and has been making a splash with his tackling, too. Through the first eight games of the 2019 season Mann has tied his total in tackles from a year ago.
However, in a game against Alabama, the punt unit for A&M came across one of the worst performances with Mann at punter. Alabama punt returner Jaylen Waddle returned four punts for 132 yards, bringing most of them back within A&M territory.
Mann made two tackles and nearly caused a fumble against the Crimson Tide, but it was a polarizing performance for the A&M special teams unit. The senior also injured his shoulder on one of the plays during the contest.
Since that game, the contests against Ole Miss and Mississippi State have gone a lot better for both Mann and the punt team. Mann averaged 52 yards per punt against Ole Miss, and allowed just two yards on punt return against the Bulldogs.
“My hangtime got a lot better; I tweaked a few things in order to get my hangtime better, which makes covering it easier,” Mann said. “[The punt coverage team] has been covering their tails off, we really drove it home, especially on punt to get it covered and get down there with a fire and cover every play like it’s your last.”
Mann said he gets touchbacks more often at the north end of Kyle Field due to the wind coming in from the south, but he has done a lot better with pinning the ball inside the 20 during the last pair of games.
“Kyle [Field] kind of swirls a little bit,” Mann said. “So it’s kind of hard to say what it’s going to do every single game day. But I definitely know what Kyle does most of the time. We always elect to kick with the wind on the very first kickoff so we can get it out of the end zone and have them start from the 25. That’s the only kind of scheming that we do, is figure out which way we’re going to kickoff.”
As far as going on the road, Mann said South Carolina is his favorite place to punt.
“I don’t know what it is, but at South Carolina, I’ve always had my best kicking games there,” Mann said. “I had one of my best punting games and then kicking off i’ve always kind of juiced it. I don’t know what it is, it didn’t seem like that much wind … But that place is pretty easy to kick in.”
In Columbia last season, Mann punted an average of 52 yards per punt, and forced a fumble against the Gamecocks.
Mann has seen two games with punts averaging above 50 yards per punt - against Auburn for 56 yards per punt, and at Ole Miss for 52 yards per punt.
A&M will face off with UTSA at Kyle Field Saturday, Nov. 2. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m., and the game will be televised on SEC Network.