Mann handling life at OU
When Burleson standout, Kenneth Mann signed his letter of intent with the University of Oklahoma Feb. 4. 2015 he had his eyes on the ultimate prize in college football - a national championship.
“I’d like to get one before I’m finished,” the District 8-4A first-team defensive end said that day.
Mann, a 2015 Burleson grad, and the Sooners are two wins away from that dream.
Monday, Oklahoma (12-1) faces Georgia (12-1) in the Rose Bowl at 4 p.m. in the first of two semifinals BCS College Football semifinal games. The game will be played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The other semifinal pits Alabama (11-1) against defending champion Clemson (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, La. Both games can be seen locally on ESPN.
Should things go right, Mann and Oklahoma could be playing for the national championship Jan. 8 in Atlanta. If that happens the Sooners would be playing for their eighth national championships.
Mann said his team, which won the Big 12 title, isn’t looking past the Bulldogs, who won the SEC championship.
“We are focused on taking it one game at a time like we have all season,” Mann said. “We know we are really close and that is extremely exciting. We definitely have a big challenge ahead of us.”
Mann is having his best season at Oklahoma as a redshirt sophomore. In 12 games, he has registered 28 tackles (14 solo stops, 14 assisted tackles), six tackles for losses, five sacks and has forced two fumbles. In his last game, a win over TCU in the Big 12 Championship, game he had two tackles and a sack.
Mann said his best game of the season came in a win at Baylor. Against the Bears, he tied his career high for tackles with five and had one-and-half sacks.
“I got some good reps in that game,” said Mann who redshirted in 2015 and played in eight games in 2016. “I was able to make most of my opportunity in that game.”
Currently, the Sooners coaching staff uses Mann in third-down pass-rush packages where his speed and quickness at nose guard can sometimes overpower opposing centers.
Making the most of opportunities are something Mann has done in his football career. Mann said playing for Burleson head football coach Gary McElroy and his staff prepared him for the rigors of playing football and going to school at Oklahoma.
“The work ethic I learned at Burleson has carried over to my time at Oklahoma,” Mann said. “Working hard in the strength and conditioning program at Burleson helped me transition better here at OU. Things like mental toughness and having your body right are definitely big here (at Oklahoma). A lot of guys had a rougher transition than I did. Not saying my time wasn’t tough, but I adjusted to it better than other guys did.”
Mann isn’t the only former Elk to make a name for himself in college football this season and see playing time in post-season games.
Kody Russey, a 2016 Burleson grad, was the starting center for Louisiana Tech in its win over SMU in the DXL Frisco Bowl. Russey also earned Conference USA All-Freshman team honors.
Preston Paden and Taylor Plaia-Bissell, also 2016 Burleson grads, helped Harding University to the NCAA Division II semifinals when the Buffalos lost to Texas A&M-Commerce. Paden started at quarterback in the semifinals and Bissell saw playing time in the loss.
Drew Brunken, who graduated with Mann in 2015, played in Tarleton State’s loss to Central Oklahoma in the Corsicana Bowl.
Mann said he follows and keeps in touch with his former Elk teammates through social media.
“I miss the people in Burleson that I developed some good relationships with,” Mann said. “It’s a family atmosphere at OU, so that made leaving Burleson and my friends easier. But I’m not going to lie, sometimes I miss home.”
In three campaigns with the Sooners, Mann, a human relations major, has been a part of three Big 12 championship teams. It’s the Oklahoma tradition of winning football games is the one he likes the best.
“I like the winning tradition a lot, it comes with rings,” Mann said. “I am very happy about my decision to come to Oklahoma. I got my offer from Oklahoma the day after Oklahoma State. I was shocked because all of it was happening so fast. When Oklahoma offered me what was bigger than the rest because I knew the kind of program they had.”
Mann said when he first started playing football at Burleson he was just playing for the fun of it. Then things started happening and colleges saw the level of player he was and the scholarship offers start coming.
“I was very blessed to be the position I was in and I had to make the most of it,” Mann said. “I’m just taking everything as it goes right now. I’m in a really good spot right now.”