When former Hartnell College running back De’Andre Mann began looking for a place to continue his college football career, he had just one thing in mind — playing time.
The Miami native was not interested in going to a program with the brightest lights, best reputation or biggest name. He simply wanted to play.
To some, that made his commitment to Kansas University a curious choice, given that the Jayhawks were slated to return three running backs with significant experience — Brandon Bourbon, Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller — and added another, four-star freshman-to-be Traevohn Wrench, in Mann’s recruiting class. But that, too, turned into part of the challenge for Mann, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound package of fury who never has shied away from competition.
“As I told the coaches, I’m not planning on red-shirting wherever I go,” Mann said in an interview on signing day in early February. “No disrespect to anybody who’s there, I just believe in my talents, and the coaches told me I’d have an opportunity at Kansas to compete for a starting spot.”
KU coach Charlie Weis was not looking to add a ball-carrier in the 2014 class because of KU’s existing depth at the position. But when the third-year KU coach saw Mann’s film and watched the things he could do, Weis became convinced that going after Mann was necessary. An opportunity was all Mann was looking for, and at Kansas he seemed to find it. The opportunity has only grown in the days since he signed back in February.
Miller has left the team for personal reasons, and there are whispers that Wrench’s academic future looks murky at best. Regardless of what’s happening around him, Mann’s objective now is the same as it has been all along — to prove Weis right for choosing to sign him.
“I think I can do it all,” Mann said. “If I gotta run through somebody, I’ll run through somebody. And if I gotta shake somebody, I can shake somebody. Basically, I just feel like I’m an all-around complete back.”
While his rushing (2,804 yards in two seasons) and touchdown totals (43) during his career at Hartnell provide ample support for Mann’s claim, his receiving numbers — 27 receptions in 2012 and 33 receptions in 2013 — make his argument as well-rounded as his game.
“He’s your typical running back,” Weis said last February. “But because he’s short they say he’s small. But he’s not small. He’s a good 200 pounds. He’s a stocky kid with a lot of confidence. He’s not coming in here to sit behind all those other guys. He’s coming in here to try to beat everybody out. That’s what I really liked about this kid, other than watching how he played.”
Mann said he watched a lot of highlights of former NFL greats Barry Sanders and Walter Payton and always found himself attempting to incorporate elements of their styles into his own. That strategy worked well enough, to this point, that it earned him the title of No. 1 junior-college running back in the Class of 2014, according to JCGridiron.com. Don’t think for a second, though, that Mann is overly impressed.
“That’s just on paper,” he said of the top ranking. “That doesn’t mean anything. You gotta put up and work on the field. It’s cool to have. And I appreciate all of the accolades and recognition, but it comes down to producing on the field and I’m ready to go to work.”
Mann is one of a dozen or so guys in the 2014 recruiting class who arrived on campus in early June. Most of the others are expected to report to KU by mid-July. While all of them will be given the chance to compete for immediate playing time, few figure to be as ready as Mann to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I really didn’t intend to take a junior-college running back,” Weis said on signing day. “(But) I put on the tape and I watched him and I watched him and I kept on looking to shoot holes in him and there weren’t any holes to shoot.”