SEC: Edward Pope

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — While many eyes in Aggieland are fixed on the quarterback competition and who Johnny Manziel's successor will be, another task that carries significant weight at Texas A&M is finding the next big-time receiver.

With Mike Evans gone, the Aggies are looking for their next star at the position, one that has seen records broken several times in the last few years.

There is a lot of talent among the Texas A&M receivers, but it is mostly unproven and inexperienced talent. With spring football underway, the Aggies coaches have a chance to discuss and dissect the multitude of openings they have at wide receiver.

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsMalcome Kennedy is the Aggies' most experienced returning receiver after catching 60 passes for 658 yards and seven scores in 2013.
"One thing that we have now that we didn't have at this position when we got here is that we have an enormous amount of depth," Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty said. "We have real SEC receivers here. That's something that we've developed over a two-and-a-half, three-year period."

The most productive returning receiver is veteran Malcome Kennedy. He is the lone returning starter, having hauled in 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Beaty has praised Kennedy's work ethic and leadership before, and Kennedy emerged as a reliable target for Manziel last season.

Now it's about figuring out who the starters will be, which eight receivers will occupy the two-deep and who will separate themselves from the pack. One player most people seem excited to have back in the fold is redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones, who sat out most of last season with a knee injury he suffered in the season-opening win over Rice.

"Getting him back healthy is a blessing for us," Beaty said. "The guy’s got unlimited potential. We really needed him back. I look for him to make huge waves for us."

Through two practices so far, coaches say the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Seals-Jones doesn't appear to show any ill effects from knee surgery.

"He looks good to me out there," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. "He's a big target and he's obviously going to bring a whole other element to what we're trying to do. He can stretch the field vertically, and he's very big and physical on the perimeter."

Perhaps the most exciting name to Aggies fans among the receiver group is one of the newest: five-star recruit Speedy Noil. Ranked as the nation's No. 1 athlete prospect in the 2014 ESPN 300, he is already drawing positive reviews from teammates and coaches in his short time on campus.

Beaty called Noil “the best receiver in the country” in the 2014 recruiting class.

“As explosive as anybody I've ever seen,” Beaty said. “Combination of strength, speed and explosiveness. Really smart guy.”

One player who could emerge as an option at outside receiver is redshirt freshman Kyrion Parker. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Parker has several physical gifts.

"This guy is as talented as any receiver I've ever had," Beaty said. "He's got to grow up and mature, and I've watched him do that before my eyes. He's starting to grow into his own. I look for great things from him in the future. He does things that other people can't do. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he's got great hand-eye coordination. He can go get the ball deep. He's a better route runner than Mike [Evans] probably was at this point in his career."

There is also an assortment of receivers who received modest playing time last season at varying levels: LaQuvionte Gonzalez (21 catches, 240 yards), Edward Pope (nine catches, 65 yards) and JaQuay Williams (four catches, 71 yards). Any of the three could be factors this fall.

“LaQuvionte Gonzalez grew up a ton this year,” Beaty said. “You'd like to redshirt a guy like that, but we weren't able to. He was a guy that benefited from it. ... I think you're going to see him do some great things.

“JaQuay Williams, another really good talent that can do a lot of great things and has come a long way from the time he got here at this time last year. Ed Pope, another guy that I'm looking for to step up and compete. He's got to do a better job of putting on weight and getting really serious about this because there are some real guys here now.”

With so many inexperienced receivers and only one real seasoned veteran in Kennedy, head coach Kevin Sumlin said getting all of these players as much work as possible is the most important part of spring for the receiver group.

“Reps, reps, reps,” Sumlin said. “Reps right now are as important as anything.”

When it comes to figuring out which of the above names are going to emerge as prominent players, Beaty said it’s simple to figure out.

“Here's what's going to happen: The serious, committed guys, those guys will rise to the top,” Beaty said. “The ones that are here just kind of messing around, those guys will drop to the bottom. There are just too many good players here now.”

Offseason spotlight: Texas A&M

February, 11, 2014
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Now that Johnny Manziel is gone, the offseason spotlight at Texas A&M is shining brightly on a young receiver looking to put a season-ending knee injury in his first year in College Station behind him:

Spotlight: Ricky Seals-Jones, 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, redshirt freshman

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayRicky Seals-Jones had this 71-yard touchdown catch against Rice, but an injury eventually netted him a redshirt in 2013..
2013 summary: A knee injury forced Seals-Jones to miss most of the season. He played in only two games and ended up redshirting. However, he caught three passes for 84 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown against Rice in Week 1.

The skinny: Seals-Jones was the Aggies' top signee a year ago and figured to play a role in Texas A&M's offense during his first year in College Station. However, his knee injury early in the year wrapped up his first year on campus before it could truly get started. With Manziel gone and top receiving target Mike Evans also departing, the Aggies are looking for consistent playmakers to fill those voids. Finding a top-flight, go-to wide receiver also would be very nice with the Aggies also breaking in a new quarterback in 2014. With his size, athleticism and speed, Seals-Jones could be that guy, but it's unknown if he'll work inside or outside. He played at both spots during preseason practice last year, and his 71-yard touchdown against the Owls came while he was lined up inside. That might not matter at all, but what will matter is if Seals-Jones can make an immediate impact in Kevin Sumlin's high-flying offense. Just looking at him, you'd think he'll make some sort of noise, no matter where he lines up. He's a physical mismatch waiting to happen with cornerbacks and will give linebackers fits on the inside and over the middle with his speed. With Malcome Kennedy being the lone returning starting receiver, the Aggies will definitely need help at that position. Kennedy is a fine option after catching 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but he won't be able to do it all himself. Youngsters LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Edward Pope, Jeremy Tabuyo and JaQuay Williams will all push for time, and so should highly touted freshman Speedy Noil, who was the nation's No. 1-rated athlete in in the 2014 recruiting class. There are options at A&M, but Seals-Jones might have the most upside right now.

Past spotlights:

Why A&M has so much youth on defense

October, 25, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The words "youth" and "inexperience" are frequently used to describe the Texas A&M defense this season.

The struggles are significant. The Aggies rank near the bottom of the FBS in most defensive statistical categories. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the five teams that have allowed more yards per game than the Aggies -- New Mexico State, Idaho, California, Nevada and Indiana -- have a combined record of 8-27.

Texas A&M is fortunate enough to have a 5-2 record (2-2 in the SEC). It certainly helps to have one of the nation's most high-powered offenses and a reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback (Johnny Manziel).

For defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and his staff, it has been a challenge from the start of the season. Suspensions, injuries and ineffectiveness are all to blame.

The Aggies currently have 11 freshmen in their defensive two-deep depth chart. Two true freshmen (defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne) are starting. The four defensive line first-team spots include Golden and two sophomores. At linebacker, a former receiver who moved to linebacker this offseason (Nate Askew) is the starter at strongside linebacker. Of the seven linebackers on the Aggies' two-deep, only one (Steven Jenkins) started a full season at the position before this year.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin's first signing class that was completely under his watch had 32 members, 18 of whom were on defense. Of those 18, a dozen have already played this season.

But how did the Aggies get to this point, playing this many freshmen and newcomers? There are some juniors and seniors on the field, but there aren't nearly as many as there were a year ago when the Aggies went 11-2 in their debut season in the SEC.

In 2012, the Aggies were fortunate to have the benefit of some good leaders on defense and others who were productive. At linebacker, Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart both provided leadership and production. Along the defensive line, Spencer Nealy made the move from defensive end to defensive tackle effectively despite not having the ideal size for the position. Steven Terrell was a steady and heady player at free safety. All four of those players were seniors and part of the 2009 recruiting class. So was Dustin Harris, who didn't always start but played plenty at cornerback and was the team's primary punt returner.

One defensive player still remains from that 2009 class: defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, who started last season and this year but suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 28 against Arkansas. But last year's A&M starting defense was more than half made up of what turned out to be a solid recruiting class on the defensive side of the ball.

So to understand why A&M is in the position it is now, take a look at the recruiting classes on defense since then:
  • In 2010, the Aggies signed seven defensive players and two more that were offensive players but eventually moved to defense. Defensive end Damontre Moore turned out to be a star, but declared for early entry into the 2013 NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining. For a team that's lacking in its pass rush (only three FBS teams have fewer sacks than Texas A&M's seven this season) a guy like that could help. Of the remainders in that class, three are starting: Toney Hurd Jr. at nickel back, Gavin Stansbury at defensive end and Askew, who was recruited and spent his first three years at receiver, at strongside linebacker. Two others (defensive tackle Ivan Robinson and quarterback Clay Honeycutt, who's now a reserve safety) are playing but not starting. Nehemiah Hicks was considered to be either a defensive end or tight end and became a tight end. The other two players in the defensive class are no longer on the team.
  • The 2011 class -- the final class signed by former head coach Mike Sherman -- brought 13 defensive players. Deshazor Everett, a cornerback with ability to play safety, is currently the defense's best player. Safeties Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven and linebacker Steven Jenkins also emerged as starters out of that group. One of the big fish landed late in that class, defensive end Brandon Alexander, has rarely played. He's now getting some playing time at tight end. Linebacker Donnie Baggs entered this season as the starting middle linebacker but is now a reserve. Tyrell Taylor is rotating at defensive end. The rest of the group hasn't made any impact at all. Five players in that group are no longer with the program.
  • The 2012 class, the first one Sumlin signed after essentially two months on the job, had some holdovers that committed to the program under Sherman. It is a mixed bag. Four of those players are starting as either true sophomores (Julien Obioha at defensive end, Alonzo Williams at defensive tackle and De'Vante Harris at cornerback) or in one case, a senior (cornerback Tramain Jacobs, who was a junior college transfer). Defensive end Tyrone Taylor, brother of Tyrell, gets some playing time at defensive end. Edward Pope, who was a receiver/defensive back, is playing receiver for the Aggies. A car accident took away one member from that class -- defensive tackle Polo Manukainiu, who died in a crash in July and is being honored by the team every week this season. A spinal injury took away another member, linebacker Michael Richardson, who played as a freshman. He had successful surgery and was fortunate to not suffer any major physical issues, but is no longer playing football. Defensive back Kenneth Marshall, though on the team, was not part of the 105-man roster during preseason training camp. Linebacker Jordan Richmond transferred to Navarro College in the offseason and one player in the class, defensive tackle Edmund Ray, never made it to campus because of qualifying issues.
If only Johnny Manziel could have played defense.

Well, I guess he could have, considering Texas coach Mack Brown recruited him as a safety coming out of high school. Oh, what a show it would have been if Johnny Football went from schooling Alabama's defense with his arm and legs to intercepting one of AJ McCarron's passes.

But that's for PlayStation enthusiasts. In real life, Manziel did everything he could have to give the Aggies a second consecutive victory over a No. 1-ranked Alabama team. Instead, we're left applauding him for arguably the best performance in a loss to date.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJohnny Manziel kept escaping Alabama's grasp, and perhaps he escaped the criticism that followed him throughout the offseason.
Yes, Manziel's ill-timed interceptions helped Alabama pull off the 49-42 victory in College Station, Texas, on Saturday, but when you look at how Manziel brought his team back and was probably a converted onside kick away from sending Saturday's shootout into overtime, you can't help but be impressed with just how good Manziel is.

His Heisman Trophy should have been enough. But after a controversial offseason, we felt we needed to see more. Manziel made sure we did.

We bashed Manziel for his offseason escapades. From hanging with Drake, chillin' with LeBron, golfing in paradise and getting wrapped up in an autograph-signing controversy, we didn't think Manziel had enough focus to duplicate his record-breaking 2012 performance. We expected more fizzle in his encore.

Boy, were we wrong. For having so much fun off the field, it's clear that when Manziel was around the football during the offseason and in fall camp, he was as focused as ever. He's grown as a passer and game manager. That actually might say more about him than anything. He really can mix business with pleasure and excel at both.

In the biggest game of his career, all Manziel did was throw for a school-record 464 yards with five touchdowns. He ran for another 98 yards. The 562 yards of total offense he registered against Alabama rank second all-time in SEC history.

When Alabama took what we all thought was a commanding 35-14 lead after Vinnie Sunseri intercepted Manziel and took his pass 73 yards to the house in the third quarter, Manziel shrugged and the Aggies drove 58 yards to make it 35-21. He then opened the fourth quarter with a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to make cut Alabama's lead to 42-28. Following a T.J. Yeldon fumble, Manziel hit Mike Evans for a 95-yard touchdown pass to make it 42-35.

After Manziel again drove down the field for a scoring drive to cut Alabama's lead to seven with 15 seconds remaining, he needed an onside kick to go his way. It didn't, but imagine if it did.

When we thought the pressure of the big game -- some dubbed as the new Game of the Century -- would get to him, he got to Alabama. And when Manziel had every opportunity to gloat and show up his opponent when the Aggies took an early 14-0 lead, he didn't. The taunting that tainted his short-lived debut in Week 1 was nowhere to be found.

Actually, it was Yeldon who was flagged for doing Manziel's patented money sign celebration and adding the infamous double throat slash.

For once, Manziel didn't play the role of villain. He just made play after play. He even had an Eli Manning-David Tyree moment when he somehow slipped out of Jeoffrey Pagan's attempted bear hug and heaved an errant pass off his back foot into traffic on third-and-8 that somehow found the mitts of wide receiver Edward Pope for a 12-yard gain.

But this wasn't just any 12-yard gain. The play began at Alabama's 34-yard line, but Manziel flamboyantly scampered around to avoid Pagan's sack before launching his pass from A&M's own 40 in front of four Tide defenders rushing toward him.

If that isn't the play of the year, it will only be because of some other wacky play Manziel makes later this season.

Manziel didn't win the game on Saturday, but he had to have won over many of the people saying he wasn't focused enough for another magical season.

So bring on the tweets, Johnny. Take a short trip to Toronto. Spend a night in Austin, Texas. It clearly isn't getting in the way of that thing called football.


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There are several reasons Texas A&M was so highly thought of and had lofty expectations coming into the 2013 season.

The No. 7 Aggies, who were ranked in the top 10 of both preseason polls (they were No. 6 in the coaches' poll), returned a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, a plethora of running backs and an All-America caliber tackle, and play a style of offense that many SEC teams -- defending champion Alabama included -- find hard to defend.

And while there were several positives to take away from Texas A&M's season-opening 52-31 win over Rice on Saturday at Kyle Field, the win also illustrated that the Aggies still have a long way to go in several areas if they plan on fulfilling championship expectations.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Eric GayThe good news is Johnny Manziel looked like his Heisman Trophy winning self once he got in the game. The bad news is the Aggies look like they still have lots of work to do if they want to win titles.
One of those areas is maturity. Head coach Kevin Sumlin discussed that after the game, and while he was specifically addressing it in relation to the ejection of freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall and the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty drawn by quarterback Johnny Manziel after a touchdown pass, Sumlin's words can apply across the board.

The Aggies had eight players miss at least the first half of Saturday's game. Four were suspended for "violating Texas A&M athletics department rules and regulations." Three were suspended after offseason arrests and Manziel was suspended for the first half after "inadvertent violations" that occurred as a result of signing autographs after the conclusion of an NCAA investigation.

That was also part of Manziel's message, according to Sumlin, to his teammates when he addressed them on Friday as part of the requirements of restoring his eligibility.

"Actions just like today and just like other guys on this team, those actions may be actions that you think just hurt you, but they end up hurting the whole football team," Sumlin said. "That was the real gist of [Manziel's] message to the team. That everybody's individual acts affect the team. When that happens, it's not good."

Of the suspended players, five were defensive starters (defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive end Gavin Stansbury). Another, Floyd Raven, is a key player expected to contribute this fall and was one time projected to start at free safety before Clay Honeycutt wound up first on the depth chart after a strong training camp.

As a result, the Aggies' defense was filled with true freshmen and newcomers getting significant playing time on Saturday and ended up surrendering 509 total offensive yards. Now, Rice is a good team in Conference USA that could contend for the league title, but it’s not nearly the caliber of opponent Texas A&M will see on its SEC schedule. The Owls ran for a whopping 306 yards -- six yards a carry -- and appeared able to run right at the Aggies' defense.

The Aggies struggled with missed tackles and missed assignments, which are to be expected when you have a significant number of 18- and 19-year-olds on the field.

"We played 20 guys out there that had never played before," Sumlin said. "Is that an excuse for our play? No. I think we learned from today."

The Aggies regain the services of Ennis and Raven next week, though Everett will again have to sit out a half, by rule, because he was ejected in the second half after being called for a targeting penalty. The other four suspended -- Jenkins, Harris, Stansbury and receiver Edward Pope -- won't return until Sept. 14 when the Aggies host No. 1 Alabama.

But there were plenty of positives to be seen as well, most notably in the win column. Backup quarterback Matt Joeckel showed he was capable of moving the offense, leading the Aggies to 28 first-half points while putting up more than respectable numbers (14-of-19 passing, 190 yards). Joeckel's lone touchdown pass was a 71-yard catch-and-run completion to an apparent star in the making, 6-foot-5, 240-pound true freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.

Players who are considered to be among the team's leaders, running back Ben Malena (100 total offensive yards, two touchdowns) and Mike Evans (84 receiving yards, two touchdowns) played their roles aptly. The kicking game was consistent as Taylor Bertolet was perfect on all his kick attempts, something he struggled with last season. And as Sumlin noted, the positive to having so many young players on the field on defense means they'll have a chance to learn from their mistakes and develop. Though there were struggles, they came up with turnovers and still did enough to win.

Most importantly, the Aggies got their quarterback, Manziel, back on the field in the second half and he looked like the player who captivated the nation a season ago. He was 6-of-8 passing for 94 yards with three touchdown passes and showed his trademark scrambling ability, though Rice did a solid job of keeping him from running too wild.

This is a team that has encountered a lot this offseason. From the headlines Manziel made and the NCAA investigation, to the suspensions and most importantly, the death of a teammate -- Polo Manukainiu -- the Aggies have already dealt with their fair share of adversity.

The Aggies honored Manukainiu on Saturday by wearing decals with his number, first name and a Tongan-inspired design on their helmets and electing sophomore defensive tackle Alonzo Williams to wear Maunkainiu's No. 90. The team will elect a different defensive lineman to do so each week as a nod to Manukainiu and his family that he is "still out there with us," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said.

This team has lofty goals. Hurd mentioned Saturday the team would wear the Manukainiu decal "each and every week, leading [up] to the national championship." If they plan to get there, they have a lot of work still to do.
Texas A&M announced before Saturday's kickoff against Rice that four players will be suspended for the first two games of the season.

Senior linebacker Steven Jenkins, junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury, sophomore cornerback De'Vante Harris and redshirt freshman receiver Edward Pope are all suspended two games for "violating Texas A&M athletics department rules and regulations," according to the school.

Jenkins, Stansbury and Harris are starters and the Aggies already had three other key defensive players (defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, cornerback Deshazor Everett and junior safety Floyd Raven) suspended for some or all of Saturday's game. Ennis and Raven are missing the entire game; Everett is missing a half.

Read the full story here.

Texas A&M Aggies spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
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2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (tied for second, West Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Texas A&MTop returners

QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, OT Jake Matthews, WR Mike Evans, DT Kirby Ennis, OLB Steven Jenkins, CB Deshazor Everett, S Howard Matthews

Key losses

LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, WR Ryan Swope, DE Damontre Moore, OLB Sean Porter, MLB Johnathan Stewart, FS Steven Terrell

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnny Manziel* (1,409 yards)
Passing: Johnny Manziel* (3,706)
Receiving: Mike Evans* (1,105)
Tackles: Damontre Moore (85)
Sacks: Damontre Moore (12.5)
Interceptions: Deshazor Everett* and Steven Terrell (2)

Spring answers

1. Johnny Football: The Aggies are in the rare position of returning the previous season's Heisman Trophy winner. Heading into his sophomore season, Texas A&M is hoping that quarterback Johnny Manziel can be even better than he was a season ago. This will be his second year in the offense and for quarterbacks who have played in this system, year two is typically a season in which they progress significantly as passers. That's one of Manziel's primary goals, even though he'll still run when the time calls for it. As long as he's healthy and playing well, things bode well for the Aggies.

2. Experienced secondary: Last season, the defensive backfield was young and inexperienced. This fall, there are still young players back there, but it is the most experienced unit on the Aggies' defense. Three of the four starters in the secondary from the AT&T Cotton Bowl are back: Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris and Howard Matthews. Junior Floyd Raven has moved from cornerback to free safety and appears to have the skill set (range and tackling prowess) to fit into the position well.

3. Loaded backfield: The Aggies have four good options in their offensive backfield for Manziel to hand off or throw to. Starting running back Ben Malena returns, as does Trey Williams, who returned kicks and received carries as a true freshman. Add to the mix a pair of transfer backs who sat out last season, Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon) and the Aggies have a quartet that gives them a multitude of options.

Fall questions

1. Front seven: The Aggies are looking for someone to replace the production that third-round NFL draft pick Damontre Moore brought last season. Moore led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks a year ago. Also, with two senior leaders gone from linebacker (Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart) Texas A&M not only has to replace the bodies but also the leadership. Because of injuries, the Aggies were thin up front in the spring but when all their key players return in the fall, it will ease at least some of those concerns. Keep an eye on names like defensive end Julien Obioha (who started opposite Moore last year), defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and linebacker Donnie Baggs as players who have a chance to see their contributions increase significantly this year.

2. New receivers: Only one starting receiver returns from last year's squad: Mike Evans. Four of the top six players in receiving yardage are no longer on the roster, including second-leading receiver Ryan Swope. So who will Johnny Manziel throw to? Keep an eye on guys like Malcome Kennedy, who caught a fourth-quarter touchdown against Alabama last season, Derel Walker, who had a strong spring game, Edward Pope, who was a star on the scout team when he redshirted last year and a host of recruits from the 2013 class like Ja'Quay Williams and ESPN 150 duo Ricky Seals-Jones and Sebastian LaRue. Developing other reliable pass-catching options is critical, so keep an eye on how they use the tight ends with newcomer Cameron Clear (6-foot-7, 270 pounds) on campus.

3. Kicking game: One player who fans kept a close eye on this spring was kicker Taylor Bertolet. In his redshirt freshman season, the strong-legged kicker struggled with consistency, hitting just 13-of-22 field goal attempts and missing seven point-after attempts. With a new special-teams coordinator (Jeff Banks) who has college punting and kicking experience around to guide him, the Aggies are looking for an improvement from Bertolet this fall. Also the Aggies are working in a new punter, Drew Kaser, who takes the reins after senior Ryan Epperson graduated.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M wrapped up spring football on Saturday with the annual Maroon and White game. After 15 practices, there's plenty to take away, but here's five things we learned during the Aggies' spring:


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