During a recent recruiting visit to Colorado, Khairi Manns knew right away that the program now led by head coach Deion Sanders would be about discipline and work.
“When I met Coach Prime, you could tell he was strictly about business,” said Manns, an edge defender transferring to CU from Maine. “The first thing he said to me before we said hello or what’s up, I was chewing gum and I was walking into his office and he was like, ‘Stop smacking that gum.’ You can just see it’s about business. It’s a time to play, but it’s also a time to work. And when we’re working, put your head down and go to work. I’ve just got nothing but respect for that.”
After four seasons at Maine, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Manns is eager to join the new-look Buffaloes and play for Sanders and the staff Sanders has assembled.
“One, you’ve got Prime Time as your head coach,” Manns said for why he chose CU. “You’ve got Charles Kelly as a (defensive coordinator), coach Nick Williams as my position coach and coach (Sal) Sunseri. The knowledge of the game that they have, I’m a student of the game, so I’m really fond of that. I just want to soak up all of the knowledge and I know that coach Kelly’s gonna put his players in the best position to succeed.”
Manns, who committed to CU on Monday and has two seasons to play, redshirted in 2019 at Maine and played in each of the Black Bears’ 26 games over the past three seasons, with 15 starts. In his collegiate career, he’s had 108 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. In 2022, he had 43 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Listed as a defensive lineman at Maine, Manns is likely to play on the edge at Colorado, although he doesn’t label himself at any one spot.
“I play defense. I’ll put it that way,” he said. “But I love to rush the passer.”
CU, which was last in the country in sacks last year, needs pass rushers and has loaded up at that spot this offseason. Sanders and his staff have brought in nine edge defenders as transfers. Manns is excited about the competition.
“We all just gonna get to work, put our heads down and go to work and then the smoke is gonna clear,” he said.
Manns was a two-time all-state player at New Rochelle (N.Y.) High School before his time at Maine and said he grew to love defense early in his football career.
“I was a lineman (as a youth); I was a big boy,” he said. “And then I started to grow into my body and things started to become like more natural in a sense. Like in 10th grade, I saw that on defense, you make your own plays. I don’t need this person do that. I can make my own plays. … Me getting to the quarterback, I’ve got to do that myself. Once I started to have fun sacking the quarterback and rushing the passer, I really started to grow into myself as a pass rusher.”
It took some time to develop at Maine, though, as he reshirted his first year. He’s grateful for his time at Maine and the lessons he learned along the way.
“My experience at Maine was beautiful,” he said. “It taught me a lot about myself, taught me a lot as a football player. It helped me grow and it showed me how to be more resourceful, more innovative. … I can’t be more thankful for what Maine has done for me.”
Now he’s ready for a new challenge, as he jumps from an FCS program to one of the most intriguing Power 5 programs in the country.
“I’ve always seen myself as this type of player,” he said. “I’ve always known my value. It didn’t play out the way I wanted to out of high school, but it’s playing out the way I want it to now. I’m not really too nervous or too anxious or anything. I’m just gonna put my head down and work and once you work, everything is going to come to fruition.”
Manns is excited to let his next chapter unfold at CU, where he’s already grown to like the coaches, the facilities, the scenery and everything else about the challenge.
“(Coming to CU) was just a beautiful opportunity that I had and you just can’t pass up on something like that,” he said.