It’s a make-or-break year for Kevin Sumlin in his fifth season as coach of Texas A&M. His staff is loaded with experience and the roster is arguably the most talented it has been since his arrival in 2012.
In the next few weeks, SEC Country takes a look at the 25 most important Aggies who will determine whether Texas A&M is destined for success or doomed for failure.
Shane Tripucka, punter
Tripucka kicks things off as the only specialist to make the top 25 list. For the last three seasons, he has patiently waited for his shot on the field, serving as Drew Kaser’s backup.
Though the college action has been light, Tripucka already has hit accolades worthy of including him on the list. In addition to special teams duties, he played receiver and tight end for coach Tom Westerberg at Allen High School (Texas) until 2013 when he moved to punting full time.
During his junior and senior year, he allowed zero return yards thanks to excellent directional kicks and extended hang time. In the playoffs his junior year against Euless Trinity, the team didn’t even bother placing anyone downfield to attempt a return.
As a senior in 2013, he was not only selected to the Under Armour All-American team, but also was honored with a game jersey. He turned his success into a preferred walk-on opportunity at Texas A&M where he used his redshirt in his first season on campus. After staying at No. 2 on the depth chart in 2014, he saw the field for the first time in 2015, booting two punts against Ball State for 46 and 42 yards. Similar to high school, neither punt was returned.
Tripucka has two years of eligibility remaining, and should allow the A&M special teams unit to handle the loss of Kaser in stride.
Texas A&M also signed Braden Mann (Cy-Fair High School; Cyprus, Texas) as a member of its 2016 class. Mann enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. Although coach Kevin Sumlin has not named a starter at this time, it appears very likely that Mann will enter the season the clear No. 2.
For a defense that still needs to reverse the trend of big plays, Tripucka’s ability to extend the field will be invaluable.
Coming Tuesday: Fresh legs in the Texas A&M backfield