In the same week a former Oklahoma long snapper is in Florida preparing for the Super Bowl, a future Oklahoma long snapper flipped his verbal commitment from Florida State to OU.
Jake Mann — ranked the No. 1 long snapper in the 2021 recruiting class by Kohl’s Professional Camps — knows about former Sooner James Winchester's run with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he told SI Sooners he’s excited about his own future as a preferred walk-on in Norman.
“I didn’t grow up an Oklahoma fan or anything,” Mann said, “but obviously I’m aware of them — the tradition there, you know, how competitive they are every year and how special that place is.”
Mann played at Northwood High School in Pittsboro, NC, just a few miles southwest of Chapel Hill. The Division I schools in his immediate locale — North Carolina, NC State, Duke and Wake Forest — are all within an hour's drive of home. But Mann said the most attractive destinations already have established snappers: the guys at North Carolina (Drew Little) and NC State (Joe Shimko) were sophomores in 2020. Also, the one at Wake Forest (Jacob Zuhr) was a freshman.
“And they get an additional year, so if they take that they’ll be a sophomore again this year,” Mann said. “So I wasn’t really interested in — and I let them know that — I don’t really want to sit for three years. I’m looking to play because, you know, it’s fun to play.”
At OU, the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Mann would be behind starter Kasey Kelleher, who was a fourth-year junior last season. Kelleher's backups in 2020 were sophomore Hunter Longcrier and freshman Ethan Lane.
“So the deal is (Kelleher is) gonna start, because he’s on scholarship,” Mann said, “and then hopefully after he leaves, I can prove I’m the next guy.”
Mann said he was identified by OU special teams coach Ryan Dougherty. He said schools’ processes for finding kickers, punters and snappers “is definitely different … because only one plays at a time.”
Without a high school coach or trusted trainer advocating on their behalf, specialists can be hard for college programs to find. So “kicking camps” have become gold mines for these specialized talents.
“As a specialist, it’s kind of a specific deal, so they go to the specialist rankings and they actually pick their guys from there,” Mann said. “But I’ve actually talked to Oklahoma — like, even last summer, I talked to them. But then they realized their situation at the time, they had three guys at the time and they weren’t looking to bring another guy in. But one of their guys just left the other day, so it was kind of out of the blue. They didn’t know they were gonna need to recruit someone, and I didn’t expect to get the offer. So it was kind of a good surprise.”
Mann said he had no connection to Florida State, either, but was identified by the Seminoles when new coach Mike Norvell and his staff got to Tallahassee last year.
“They were put in a situation where they had two snappers,” Mann said. “Neither of them had been on scholarship, so they felt like they needed to bring someone in, and they felt like I was the guy for that.”
FSU's loss is Oklahoma's gain. Kohl's ranks Mann No. 1 in the country after his performance in the camps.
“Mann has shown time and time again why he is the best in America,” Kohl's writes. “Recently at the Kohl’s National Scholarship Camp, he snapped with supreme control and consistency. His rotation never waivers and he finished the charting portion of camp with an average snap time of .66 seconds. Mann is polished in every aspect of being a snapper, he has tremendous talent as well as athleticism. Mann will be able to make an immediate impact for whichever program is fortunate enough to gain a commitment.”
Mann said it hasn’t been determined yet which summer session he’ll enroll in at OU, but said he’s definitely excited to get started.