Texas A&M punter and reigning Ray Guy Award winner Braden Mann knows the recipe for success when it comes to kicking specialists. As much as repetition prepares them for game time, keeping things light in practice and on the sideline takes the edge off.
It especially came in handy last season when sophomore place kicker Seth Small found himself thrust into the spotlight.
Starting kicker Daniel LaCamera injured his plant foot in the Aggies’ second game of the season against Clemson. Small entered his trial-by-fire acclimation to major college football early the next week before A&M’s home game against Louisiana-Monroe when coaches gave him the nod as the new starter.
“I called my dad right afterwards, and I was a little nervous but I was excited,” Small said.
Mann, who serves as A&M’s holder, says when he looked up at Small to check on the then-freshman lineup up for his first kick, his eyes were the size of Kyle Field’s lights. Small drilled the 40-yard field goal then suffered a bit of teasing from Mann and his special teams colleagues for his wide-eyed welcome.
But that lighthearted approach set by Mann eased Small through the remainder of the season and has continued to help this year.
“We just tell each other jokes,” Small said. “And we are around each other all day, so we know each other’s sense of humor. But we keep it lighthearted, encourage each other. That’s a good group of guys to be around and make it fun.”
Small hit 20 of 28 field-goal attempts with a long of 52 yards last season. He has continued his success in 2019, hitting 8 of 10 including a 50-yarder.
It’s been in his two misses this season, both in the Aggies’ 28-20 loss to Auburn, that head coach Jimbo Fisher says he has seen Small’s growth. With each of the misfires, one from 47 yards and another from 52, Small rallied to hit the next try. He followed that performance with a 50-yarder to put away the Aggies’ 31-27 win over Arkansas at AT&T Stadium last week in Arlington.
“That’s why I’m so impressed,” Fisher said. “He was having a great year ... and he missed two field goals [against Auburn] that he was capable making. But then to come back in that critical time — that’s the next time you get a chance. To me that shows his maturity.”
For Small, he says it was a piece of cake after honing his kicking chops in the pressure cooker of the Katy High School football program. During his senior year he hit 12 field goals and was ranked the top kicker in the country by 247Sports.com.
“Katy prepared me tremendously for college,” Small said. “I’m so thankful that I went there. It’s like a mini-college, if you will. The coaches did a great job preparing me mentally and physically.”
Not to mention, the fans would let him know when his performance didn’t meet Tiger standards, Small said with a smirk.
While Small is still an underclassmen making his way, Mann has reached the pinnacle of college punting by claiming the Ray Guy award and earning an All-American nod. And yet the two specialists are often confused by people they meet around campus and Bryan-College Station.
Small calls Mann his biggest “celebrity” look-alike. Mann just uses their similar features and the confusion they cause as an opportunity to keep the mood light in the kicking circle.
“Braden thinks he’s the better looking one, but I don’t think he is,” Small said with a laugh.