Football: Playing catch

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David Minton/DRC
North Texas wide receiver Derrick Teegarden, right, runs downfield after making a catch as Houston’s Effrem Oliphant, left, closes in Saturday at Robertson Stadium in Houston.

Teegarden chose Mean Green over beloved baseball

Derrick Teegarden still had his Rangers hat on Tuesday afternoon, thinking about what might have been for his favorite team after Texas was eliminated from the American League playoffs.

This is a time of year Teegarden has always loved, when the run to the World Series is in full swing.

It’s also a time of the year when the North Texas sophomore can’t help but think back to an evening in his house in Odessa when he was offered the chance — and the choice — of a lifetime.

A group of Tampa Bay Rays officials sat down with Teegarden and his parents and promised to select him in the top half of baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.

“It was tough,” Teegarden said. “They were at my house, talking to me and my parents about the whole process. It was a pretty big deal. I was 18, trying to figure out if I wanted to go to college or not go to college at all.

“They gave me some time to think about it, but they wanted a clear answer on whether or not I was going to come here [North Texas] or play baseball. They didn’t want to waste a pick.”

Teegarden was just as good a center fielder as he was a quarterback at Odessa and at 6 feet tall was a lot better equipped physically to continue his career in the minor leagues than he was at UNT, where he would have to make the transition from quarterback to wide receiver.

Teegarden chose to play football at UNT anyway, and couldn’t be happier with how that decision has turned out, especially after he continued to carve out a role with the Mean Green on Saturday in a loss at Houston.

Teegarden caught his first three passes of the season, covering a total of 30 yards, and continued to play a key role on special teams — a performance he will look to build on when UNT faces Louisiana-Lafayette in a key Sun Belt Conference game Tuesday. The Mean Green (2-4, 1-1 SBC) will try to keep its slim chances of jumping into the Sun Belt title chase alive against ULL (4-1, 2-0).

The Ragin’ Cajuns might be the favorite in the Sun Belt race after winning their first two league games.

UNT is looking for receivers to complement star wideout Brelan Chancellor and Ivan Delgado. Chancellor (23 catches for 433 yards) and Delgado (27 catches for 369 yards) have been productive, but no one else on the roster has more than eight catches or 92 yards halfway through the season.

UNT’s coaches are far from ready to declare Teegarden the answer to the problems that have plagued an offense that is averaging 19.5 points a game, but they do believe that he can be a part of the solution if he continues to develop.

“He’s starting to show,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “He has deceptive speed. If you put a clock on him, he’s not going to blow you away. If the NFL guys time him someday, they are not going to say, ‘Oh my God, who’s that?’ But he can get open and make plays. He’s one of those guys we expect more out of and think he can and will give more.”

McCarney said Teegarden has put in the necessary effort. That drive has shown up on special teams, where Teegarden is heavily involved.

Teegarden is one of UNT’s designated special teams unit leaders and speaks to the units he plays on the morning before each game.

He started to show the ability to play a larger role for UNT’s offense late last season when he caught one pass for 22 yards in a loss to Western Kentucky.

Teegarden earned a spot on UNT’s two-deep depth chart heading into this season and posted what has been the best game of his career last week.

“Derrick is very athletic and was a quarterback in high school,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “He’s a very smart football player. I said in the spring that we needed to find ways to get him the football. He had a couple of catches the other night. We are trying to build off that.”

The process has been a gradual one for Teegarden, who doesn’t have a lot of experience at wide receiver. He was the District 2-5A Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, when he threw for 1,911 yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with 833 rushing yards.

Teegarden was just as impressive as an outfielder. He was the District 3-5A Newcomer of the Year in 2008 as well as a first-team All-District 2-5A selection as a junior and a senior.

The dilemma Teegarden faced is a common one for high school seniors who are top talents in both football and baseball.

Teegarden had the choice between a football scholarship that would be guaranteed for one season and likely would pay for a four-year college education, and the quick payday that goes with being drafted in baseball, not to mention an immediate career in the minor leagues.

“The money was hard to pass on,” Teegarden said. “It sure sounded good. You are 18 years old and can have a little money.”

That payday couldn’t compare with what UNT had to offer, especially for a former quarterback who grew up in West Texas, where high school football is revered.

“Playing college football was a dream I had before the whole baseball thing came up,” Teegarden said. “The education was also a big deal to me.”

While the talents necessary to excel in baseball do not seem like they would translate to football, there are some skills that do.

Teegarden named running down balls in the outfield and catching them over his shoulder as something that has helped him in football. Speed and hand-eye coordination also carry over.

“He’s got some of the best hands on the team,” UNT running back Jeremy Brown said. “He catches anything thrown to him and he’s pretty quick.”

Teegarden’s approach might be his biggest asset of all.

“I’m doing whatever I can to help the team out, whether it is making a couple of catches like I did last week or making a couple of blocks or helping on special teams,” Teegarden said. “I am getting a chance to get on the field a little more.

“Anywhere they need me, I’m up for it.”

Teegarden has no doubts that he made the right decision when he told the Tampa Bay officials who thought highly of him as an outfielder that he was going to play for UNT.

But that doesn’t mean there are not days he thinks about baseball. He still wanders by the field at Odessa to take batting practice when he is in town and his old high school team is practicing.

“I think about it all the time,” Teegarden said. “I miss it, no doubt, but I feel like I made a good decision coming here. I met great people and am part of a great team. I love all the guys and don’t regret it at all.”

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


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