Brett Vito: Future at quarterback

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David Minton/DRC
North Texas junior quarterback Derek Thompson drives up the middle against Texas Southern during Saturday night’s game at Apogee Stadium in Denton.

It’s Thompson’s job now, but will Berglund be the answer?

One of the more important developments when it comes to North Texas’ future came to light this week.

And it had nothing to do with the Mean Green’s 34-7 win over Texas Southern on Saturday night at Apogee Stadium.

The improved play of UNT’s defense? Yeah, that’s great.

The fact the Mean Green started running the ball effectively again? OK. But let’s remember, UNT was playing a Football Championship Subdivision school.

Nope, what really should have UNT fans excited is that a real, live, highly touted quarterback prospect, one who actually has the size to play the position, is acclimating to life with the Mean Green as we speak.

UNT hasn’t had a quarterback recruit like Brock Berglund signed, sealed and delivered in years.

Berglund has barely spent any time at UNT. He showed up this fall and can’t take a snap in a game until 2013. With the way he has bounced around, even the most optimistic of Mean Green fans have to acknowledge that the bust risk for Berglund is high.

The former Colorado Class 4A Player of the Year started his career at Kansas, spent a short time at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College and is now at UNT, his third college since he graduated from Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) in 2011.

His mail hasn’t even caught up with him yet.

Berglund has been flirting with UNT for months.

He visited during spring practice on a grand tour of the country that included stops at several other schools, including UNT’s Sun Belt rival Florida International.

Berglund said he loved his visit to UNT but decided to enroll at Scottsdale so he could play this fall. When that didn’t work out, he moved on to UNT and made it official in a LeBron James-like announcement on Twitter.

“I am excited to be a part of the University of North Texas football team,” Berglund wrote. “This is a special place, and I am very excited for what the future holds. Many people have supported me, allowing me to live out my dreams. I can’t say how grateful I am.”

I walked right past Berglund on Saturday night as I was making the mad dash from UNT’s postgame news conference back to the press box.

When Berglund came out of high school, most experts had him rated among the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. At 6-foot-4, he certainly looks the part.

He’s the type of recruit UNT hasn’t brought to town in years.

Riley Dodge was highly regarded, but was too small to play on the college level. Giovanni Vizza backed out of a commitment to Nevada to sign with UNT and played well at times but was asked to guide the team during one of the worst eras in program history. Vizza got out of town before finishing his eligibility.

Derek Thompson, this year’s starter, was an under-the-radar recruit.

Don’t think having a top-notch quarterback makes a difference?

Then you haven’t been paying attention.

UNT hasn’t had an all-conference quarterback since Scott Hall was named to the All-Sun Belt team in 2003 and 2004.

The Mean Green won the league title both years and hasn’t done much since.

That isn’t a coincidence.

Thompson opened as UNT’s starting quarterback for the second straight year at LSU in the season opener. He was the first repeat starter since Hall in 2001 and 2002.

A torn pectoral muscle Hall suffered in a season-opening loss to Texas knocked him out of UNT’s lineup in 2002, when Andrew Smith took over and led the Mean Green to a New Orleans Bowl win over Cincinnati.

Smith was UNT’s starter to open the 2003 season before the Mean Green went back to Hall, who was the starter again in 2004 as a senior.

Since Hall graduated after the 2004 season, UNT has started seasons with Daniel Meager, Matt Phillips, Vizza, Dodge, Nathan Tune and now Thompson.

UNT’s problems during that time go well beyond its quarterback situation, but it’s hard to argue that other teams in the Sun Belt didn’t have better players at the most important position on the field.

Arkansas State won the league title last year and had Ryan Aplin, the Sun Belt Player of the Year. Troy had two elite Sun Belt quarterbacks in Levi Brown and Omar Haugabook during its run as the league’s best team for four years beginning in 2006. Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith was the Sun Belt’s Player of the Year in 2007, when the Owls beat Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.

Those are just a few of the examples of quarterbacks who played prominent roles in leading their teams to the top of the Sun Belt the last few years.

Just this weekend, Kolton Browning made all the key plays for Louisiana-Monroe, including scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 16-yard run in overtime to give the Warhawks a huge win over eighth-ranked Arkansas.

The Warhawks’ quarterback had 481 yards of total offense and is now in the national spotlight.

UNT has turned to Thompson for the second straight year in the hope that he can build on a solid first season as a starter that saw him throw for 1,759 yards. It’s been a struggle so far. Thompson has thrown for only 288 yards in two games after hitting on 19 of his 45 pass attempts.

We are miles away from giving up on Thompson and look forward to the potential beginning of the Berglund era.

Thompson did throw for more than 330 yards twice late last season.

There is no doubt that UNT has struggled to match that production in 2012, a problem that can be partly blamed on a less-than-inspiring group of wide receivers outside of Brelan Chancellor.

“Our passing game left a lot to be desired,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said following Saturday night’s victory. “We were not very efficient. I’m disappointed with the way we passed the ball [Saturday night].”

UNT is months away from beginning to see if Berglund will be an upgrade.

Don’t think for a minute that getting better at quarterback won’t be important as UNT makes the move up to Conference USA next season. That should have been apparent last year when the Mean Green was torched for 458 yards by Houston’s Case Keenum and 314 by Tulsa’s G.J. Kinne.

C-USA has some good quarterbacks. UNT needs one who can measure up.

Having Berglund gives UNT another option if Thompson continues to struggle. Berglund also gives UNT a highly regarded quarterback prospect for the first time in a long time.

“He has a cannon of an arm and is smart,” Scottsdale head coach Doug Madoski said. “He’s a Division I football player, no question.”

Just the possibility Berglund will be wearing green while trying to capitalize on his potential is huge, a whole lot bigger than a win over TSU.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is bvito@dentonrc.com .

 


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