Up until a few months ago, North Texas was in the unenviable position of selling dreams when it came to recruiting.
UNT had plans. It had aspirations.
What it didn't have was a top-notch football venue - or anything close to it - while playing at Fouts Field.
That changed a few months ago when UNT opened Apogee Stadium. UNT's coaches won't have a full recruiting cycle with the stadium in place until next year, but the staff has had a few months to try to capitalize on the excitement the venue has provided heading into national signing day today.
UNT's coaches have said that excitement made a difference while they put together the second signing class under head coach Dan McCarney.
"It's hard to measure the impact, but there is no doubt it helps," McCarney said. "It's a whole different world now when you come to North Texas now with the stadium.
"You can see the commitment to football."
UNT has tried to capitalize on what the venue provides every chance it has gotten over the last few months.
Late last summer, UNT hosted its first "Friday Night Lights" event. More than 100 players from the Dallas-Fort Worth area signed up for the one-day camp under the lights at Apogee.
More than a dozen of UNT's top recruiting targets were among those players.
Since then, every recruit who has come on an official visit has toured the facility.
Running back Mark Lewis of Livonia, La., was among the players who have orally committed to UNT who said the facility influenced their decision to play for the Mean Green.
"I really like the facilities, the stadium and all that, but what I really liked is that the program is starting to turn around," Lewis said. "They were one win from a bowl game. I feel like I can help the program take the next step."
UNT finished 5-7 last season with four of those wins coming at Apogee.
Some of the players UNT began recruiting late in the process did not see the Mean Green play at home. They did get a chance to experience what a game there might be like, though.
UNT's staff brought its last group of players who came in on an official visit last weekend, turned on the lights and the video board in the stadium and let them experience the stadium's amenities.
"The stadium was unbelievable," Louisiana linebacker LaJaylin Smith said. "I have never seen a stadium of that caliber. The last dinner we had while I was there was in the suites. They had the lights and the video board on. It will be nice to play under those lights."
Jarmarcus Jarvis also thought about playing at Apogee.
"I went out on the field and they turned the lights on," Jarvis said. "I was ready to play right then and there."
Local high school coaches could also sense the difference Apogee stadium has made for the program.
Flower Mound Marcus offensive lineman Ryan Rentfro backed out of a commitment to play for UNT's Sun Belt Conference rival Louisiana-Monroe to sign with the Mean Green today.
Marcus coach Bryan Erwin said that the enthusiasm UNT has built with the arrival of its new stadium, not to mention McCarney, who is entering his second season with the Mean Green, made a difference for Rentfro, who said he found a home at UNT after seeing the campus. The all-district tackle wanted to commit to UNT on his first visit to see the stadium and the school in the fall, but had to wait for a scholarship to open up.
One did come open late in the process when the Mean Green had some movement in its class.
UNT lost Louisiana Helen Cox linebacker Royce LaFrance - one of the top players to commit to play for the Mean Green following its Friday Night Lights event - when he backed out of his commitment and decided to play for Tulane, his hometown team.
Offensive linemen Sam Rice and Chase Walling changed their minds after committing to UNT and decided to sign with SMU today.
Even with those defections, UNT is set to sign a few players who are ranked among the best in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and beyond.
Buda Hays standout Boone Feldt is ranked 17th among centers nationally by Rivals.com. Coppell cornerback David Busby is No. 90 on The Dallas Morning News' list of the top 100 prospects in the region.
Despite all the excitement surrounding UNT's new stadium and the improvement the program showed in McCarney's first season, the Mean Green still heads into signing day ranked in the middle of the pack in the Sun Belt Conference.
Rivals.com has UNT ranked sixth in the nine-team league. Scout.com added South Alabama to its Sun Belt rankings and has UNT ranked seventh out of 10 teams. USA is in the process of joining the league.
While UNT had a new stadium to sell, it also had a lot to overcome.
The Mean Green improved dramatically last season under McCarney, but still finished under .500, adding one more year to the string of losing seasons that now stands at seven.
The players who sign with UNT today were in fifth grade the last time the Mean Green posted a winning record, in 2004. UNT won the Sun Belt title that year and played in the New Orleans Bowl.
UNT believes it is on course to get back to the postseason, thanks largely to its new stadium and the impact it has had on the program - and the recruiting class it will sign today.
"North Texas is on the rise and is making progress," said Devante Davis, a safety who is expected to sign with UNT today. "They are going to win, and I am ready to help them take on any challenge they come across."
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .