North Texas had hoped to bring Freddie Warner back sometime late this season to help bolster its secondary during a late push for a winning record and a trip to a bowl game.
Now UNT is just hoping the sophomore cornerback’s career isn’t completely over.
Warner tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during spring practice.
UNT head coach Dan McCarney confirmed Monday during the Sun Belt Conference’s coaches teleconference that Warner tore the ACL in the same knee a second time while going through the rehabilitation process.
Warner will undergo a second ACL reconstruction surgery on his knee, ending any hope he will return this season and putting his future in 2013 and beyond in question.
“My heart breaks for him,” McCarney said. “He has worked so hard to try to get back and put himself in position to get back this year. It will be delayed. We fully anticipate him being ready to go in 2013.”
UNT missed Warner on Saturday when Houston quarterback David Piland threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-21 win over the Mean Green.
UNT will look to rebound Oct. 16 at home in a game against Louisiana-Lafayette that will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2. UNT will enter that game knowing it will be without a player who made a big impact as a freshman a year ago.
Warner began the 2011 season as a backup to a host of experienced players, but earned a spot in the starting lineup in the fifth week of the year. He started three games before missing the rest of the season after breaking his foot in a loss to ULL.
Warner finished with 18 tackles and broke up a pass in seven games, including the three he started.
McCarney and his assistants have said on several occasions that Warner is UNT’s best defensive back.
The question now is if he will still have the speed and quickness that made him so effective after a second knee surgery.
“It does matter,” McCarney said of having more than one surgery on a knee. “You just never know because every young man is different and every surgery is different. Some guys never play again after one ACL surgery. I had a guy who played for me at Florida who had two ACL reconstructions on one knee and one on the other and helped us win a national title. We are going to give him all the support he needs this year.”
McCarney expressed confidence in UNT’s team doctors, trainers and strength staff that will help usher Warner through a second surgery, one the Mean Green’s doctors hope will help him return to form.
Warner was among UNT’s highest-rated recruits in its 2011 signing class. He was rated No. 51 on The Dallas Morning News’ Area Top 100 list and was a Rivals three-star prospect.
Warner originally committed to Texas Tech, which pulled his scholarship offer after the assistant coach who was recruiting him left the staff.
Warner then passed on offers from Colorado State, UTSA and UTEP to sign with the Mean Green.
UNT has turned to Hilbert Jackson and Zac Whitfield, a converted running back, at corner with Warner out of the lineup.
Whitfield moved into the starting lineup after UNT lost seven of the eight defensive backs on its depth chart last season to graduation. Jackson was the only player out of the eight to return.
Those inexperienced players fared well at times early in the season. UNT held Florida Atlantic to 142 passing yards and intercepted two passes in a 20-14 win.
Whitfield and safeties Lairamie Lee and Marcus Trice all intercepted passes in a 34-7 win over Texas Southern in the second week of the season.
It’s been a whole lot tougher for UNT to get by without Warner against some of the spread offenses the Mean Green has faced. Piland completed all but 10 of his 41 attempts against UNT last week, while Troy quarterback Corey Robinson threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, in a 14-7 victory.
Jackson is a junior, but the three other cornerbacks on UNT’s depth chart are freshmen, including true freshman Jamal Marshall, who was among five freshmen defensive backs the Mean Green signed in its 2012 recruiting class.
UNT could look to that group to fill the void if Warner is unable to return, but might have to adjust its recruiting plans.
UNT does not have a cornerback among the 10 players who have committed to sign with the Mean Green in its 2013 class.
UNT hit season high in loss
UNT quarterback Derek Thompson completed passes to 10 different receivers in UNT’s loss to Houston, marking the second straight week the Mean Green at least matched its season high for the number of players with receptions.
UNT matched its season high for players with at least one catch in a game of seven, set in a loss to Kansas State, when Thompson connected with seven different players in a win over FAU.
Brelan Chancellor and Ivan Delgado each caught four passes against Houston. Chancellor (23 catches for 443 yards) leads UNT in receiving yards, while Delgado (27 catches, 369 yards) leads the Mean Green in receptions.
UNT does not have another player with more than eight catches or 100 receiving yards on the year.
“We are trying to do that [get the ball to multiple players] and get some guys to step up and be playmakers for us, so it isn’t a situation where other teams can say, ‘Where’s No. 3 [Chancellor]?’ and if we can’t get it to him, we are in real trouble. It was good to see. Derek made some good decisions and we were able to spread it around. We have to grow from there.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .