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December 30, 2011

Mann talks O-D Bowl

For elite high school football players, All-America games are meant to be a treat, a rewarding experience for four years of superior play. But during a week in Texas for the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, JaFar Mann found himself with loads of downtime and looking forward to two specific things.

"The only thing I was waiting on was playing in the game and going to Six Flags," the three-star Florida defensive tackle commit admitted.

Jerry Jones' $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium and the popular theme park were the only things getting Mann through a slow week.

"It's real boring," he said.

Mann, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound standout from Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson, was one of two Gators commits participating in the all-star game that dates back to 2007 and has featured future NFL players like Dez Bryant, Cam Newton and Joe Haden.

Outside linebacker Jeremi Powell was the other UF pledge in attendance.

While he may not have enjoyed everything Texas had to offer, Mann was pleased with how he performed throughout the week of practice and during the game. He said he felt like he was more talented than the majority of his opposition, something that caught him a bit off guard.

"I was surprised because I really did good," Mann said. "Like I thought I was going in there with talent and there was no talent. It felt good to perform and play the way I did."

Although official statistics from the game have been difficult to come by, Mann said he had four tackles and was a constant disruption at the line of scrimmage.

"I basically played the whole game," he said. "They took me out every now and then to let other people play. ... I was giving some plays to other people. I blew up a lot of plays, but I had four tackles."

The opportunity to play in Cowboys Stadium was something Mann said he will never forget and one of the major selling points of participating in the Offense-Defense Bowl.

"That was amazing," he said. "The (video) screen was so big."

Another aspect of Mann's trip to Texas that he enjoyed was getting to know Powell better. The future Gators were both on the East squad and had plenty of opportunities to bond on the practice field.

"We were talking a lot, talking about how much we can't wait to get down [to Florida]," Mann said. "Me and him got real close. We were teammates, so I got a really good feel for him. We had a pretty immediate connection."

A noticeable missing link for the East team was four-star running back and former UF commit Mike Davis, who was originally scheduled to participate in the Offense-Defense Bowl before accepting a late invitation to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

After Davis, a high school teammate of Mann, decommitted from Florida, there was some speculation that it might affect Mann's ultimate decision. But the big defensive tackle said those rumors couldn't have been further from the truth.

"We play two different sides of the ball," Mann said. "That's it for me. I don't really have nothing to do with the offense. It didn't have a lot to do with Mike, me choosing that school. I just thought that was the best place for me. As far as that goes, we're two different sides of the ball, and we're two different people. I'm not going to put nothing foul on him, but it is what it is."

Not long after Davis decided Florida wasn't the place for him, the Gators also made waves by getting commitments from two junior college defensive tackles in one week, something else that could have flustered Mann's loyalty to UF.

"It really surprised me, but I ain't tripping because I know what I can do," he said. "It kind of upset me for a little minute, but it's straight now."

As for UF targets at the Offense-Defense Bowl, four-star offensive tackle Jake Meador was the only notable guy in attendance. The recent recipient of a Florida offer, Mann didn't recognize the name when first asked about Meador but later said he did come in contact quite a bit with a Florida offensive line target.

"There was this one lineman," Mann said. "I'm trying to get him to come to Florida. I don't know his name, but Florida is in his top and he's taking an official visit down there next year. I told him to commit. I think he is (going to commit), though."


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