LAWRENCE — The name and film arrived late in the recruiting process, after Kansas coach Charlie Weis had already made up his mind. He didn’t want another junior college running back. He didn’t really need one, either.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
But KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus kept pleading. The kid’s name was De’Andre Mann, a short little burst of a running back from Hartnell College in central California. Just take a look, Powlus said.
“So I put on the tape,” Weis said “And I watched him, 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.”
This is how Mann, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound back, became a member of the Jayhawks’ 2014 recruiting class, a 25-man group that was made official Wednesday on national signing day. But Weis says there’s something else that could make Mann an immediate contributor in the KU backfield.
While Weis will lose senior James Sims, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, to graduation, Kansas will return a crowded backfield that includes senior Brandon Bourbon, junior Darrian Miller and senior Taylor Cox, who took a medical redshirt last season. That depth chart doesn’t even include speedster Tony Pierson, who is expected to play more receiver next season, or incoming freshman Traevohn Wrench, a four-star recruit from Gardner Edgerton.
It was only natural for Weis to be concerned: Was he spending a scholarship on a junior college player who would just sit the bench? Then Weis met Mann.
“A stocky kid with a lot of confidence,” Weis said, before adding: “He’s coming in here to try to beat everybody out. That’s what I really liked about this kid.”
Mann, a native of Miami, led all junior college players in California with 1,706 yards rushing last season. It was those numbers — as well as his mix of skills — that led to him being tabbed as the nation’s No. 1 junior college running back, according to JCGridiron.com, a Rivals.com site that tracks juco football.
“He could run inside, he could run outside,” Weis said. “He’s your typical running back, where because he’s short, they say he’s small. But he’s not small. He’s a good 200 pounds.”
While Mann could provide a short-term spark at the running back position, Weis also believes he signed KU’s next great running back in the 2014 class. Wrench, who was rated as the No. 2 prospect in Kansas by Rivals.com, rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season at Gardner Edgerton. And Weis is not shy about turning up expectations.
“I think Wrench has a chance to be a star,” Weis said. “I really like the kid. I’ve liked him for a long time.”
In this case, Weis says, he also just need a little bit of film to fall for Wrench.
“He rushed for about 400 yards in a high school game,” Weis said. “He touches the ball, goes for 20; touches the ball, goes for 50. (He) touches the ball, goes for 70. … Nine is a bad run for him.”
Wrench, who is currently listed at 6 feet, 190 pounds, could probably use some time to mature physically and add bulk to his frame. But given KU’s depth at the position, he should have plenty of time to develop at a comfortable pace.
When new offensive coordinator John Reagan takes command of the offense during spring ball, Weis expects plenty of competition at the running back position. And even more next summer.
“I think when you line up in the spring, Brandon (Bourbon) is first,” Weis said. “But you’re going to have plenty of time between Brandon, Taylor and Darrian; you’ll have plenty of time for those guys to battle it out in spring. And then the reinforcements arrive.”