Jake Mann, Northwood’s star long snapper, in the middle of a recruiting boom

Posted 6/5/20

PITTSBORO — Recent national champions Clemson and Alabama have been in touch. SEC stalwarts such as Georgia and Florida have reached out. Power Five schools Florida State, Virginia and Arizona …

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Jake Mann, Northwood’s star long snapper, in the middle of a recruiting boom

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PITTSBORO — Recent national champions Clemson and Alabama have been in touch. SEC stalwarts such as Georgia and Florida have reached out. Power Five schools Florida State, Virginia and Arizona State have all extended official offers.

In the world of long snapping, Northwood’s Jake Mann is a hot commodity.

Mann, a rising senior, is the No. 1 long snapper in the class of 2021, according to the Kohl’s Professional Camp rankings. Rubio Long Snapping, the other main recruiting service for the position, ranks him sixth in its 2021 class. He’s earned a slew of All-America honors, and on both lists, he’s a consensus five-star prospect.

Not too shabby for someone who showed up to the Chargers’ summer football workouts four years ago as a freshman angling for a different special teams position.

“I wanted to be a kicker, but there were already a few,” Mann said. “I thought, ‘Why not long snap?’ It was a perfect fit.”

He started out on Northwood’s JV team and jumped up midseason to replace the varsity squad’s injured snapper.

His debut was no joke. In Mann’s first game, Northwood took down Orange High (and future N.C. State linebacker Payton Wilson) in a crucial Big Eight Conference road game. He survived — no mistakes — and has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

Mann’s father, Chris, has been a big part of that. He snapped through high school and in college at Delaware in the late 1980s (where he also played safety). So any time the Manns were tossing a football, Chris made sure Jake and his younger brother, Travis, snapped a few balls, too, just to get some early experience with the motion.

When Jake’s freshman year at Northwood came, those early reps in the yard as a 5-year-old paid dividends.

“He had done it before in the past,” Chris said. “He just had to work out some technical flaws.”

Long snapping, like field goal kicking, can be an unforgiving task. A player has one job. He’s expected to do it well. And more often than not, he’s only noticed for the one or two times he does it poorly. Mann, 17, has come to relish that pressure, which comes in a unique role he describes as “like a quarterback throwing a pass the same distance every time.”

“If you’re a receiver, you drop a pass and you have more opportunities in the game,” he said. “Long snapping, you don’t know how many more times you’re going to punt or kick a field goal. It’s definitely a thing you don’t want to mess up at.”

This past season, as a junior, Mann added another position to his long-snapping duties: linebacker. He hadn’t seriously played an offensive or defensive position since his pee wee football days, but he enjoyed the challenge. Plus, it made practices more engaging — he had something to do outside of the brief special teams session.

“It’s much better than sitting around,” Mann said with a laugh. “I got used to it really quickly.”

He earned an all-conference honorable mention for his efforts (49 tackles, two fumble recoveries) and has lettered in lacrosse all three years, too — an interest he credits to his family’s Massachusetts roots. This spring, he had nine goals in three games before the remaining matches were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those traits, plus his snapping acumen, have made him an enticing recruit.

Mann’s snap speed — the time it takes the ball to leave the long snapper’s hands and reach the punter 15 yards behind him — has been clocked in the 0.65-0.66 second range, which is an NFL-caliber average. And he also has the athleticism to get down the field on punts, where every defender is crucial in tackling a returner or forcing a fair catch.

“A lot of coaches love the fact he’s a linebacker,” Chris said.

Mann has been a mainstay on the Rubio and Kohl’s rankings since early high school, and his father said they’ve been in touch with around 40 schools throughout the process. But Mann said recruiting has “really picked up a lot ever since the virus.”

In April, he landed his first three offers: Florida State, then Arizona State, then Virginia. The Manns are actively communicating with around 20 schools now, mostly in Power Five conferences, and Mann said most of the conversations have been “relationship builders.”

“I’m not surprised that the No. 1 kid’s getting this much attention,” Chris said. “I’m just surprised that Jake’s the No. 1 kid.”

He’s interested in a business or sports administration major and, if possible, would like to take a few more visits in the fall as he looks for the best fit. The Manns are shooting for Jake to choose a school by late October.

All of that, of course, is a tentative plan. Mann’s not sure when or if certain colleges will open their campuses and how those visits would look. And the NCHSAA is still determining its best path forward for high school football this fall. Until then, Mann has two goals.

“Keep snapping,” he said, “and stay ready.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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