Aaron Fortenberry and a few of his senior teammates started reminiscing this week about all they had gone through at North Texas.
Fortenberry, Jeremy Phillips and Coleman Feeley were surprised when they stopped to think about just how many coaches they have followed through the years.
“We were saying, ‘Man, we’ve had two head coaches and four different strength coaches,’” said Fortenberry, a senior offensive lineman. “It’s crazy the people we have met and what we have been through.
“It’s been a little bit of a wild ride, but I have enjoyed it because of the relationships I have made with my coaches and teammates. I will be friends with a lot of these guys for a long time.”
For Fortenberry, Feeley, a fellow offensive lineman, and Phillips, a starting linebacker, today’s game against Western Kentucky will be the end of their college careers and their time playing for Dan McCarney, who took over for interim head coach Mike Canales, who took over for Todd Dodge.
The trio’s time at UNT certainly won’t end the way they had hoped at the beginning of fall practice.
Fortenberry, Phillips and Feeley were among UNT’s seniors who hoped to finish their careers by ending the program’s string of losing seasons that will stand at eight following today’s game.
The Mean Green’s bowl hopes ended last week with a loss at Louisiana-Monroe that dropped them to 4-7 on the year.
UNT’s goal now is to send players like Fortenberry out on a high note. For most of the Mean Green’s seniors, it will be the last time they play.
That opportunity is one they cherish.
“It’s our last game, so it will be meaningful,” senior tight end Andrew Power said. “We are trying to get a win. Everyone is a competitor. There is nothing after this, but that won’t change anything.”
WKU won’t have to dig nearly as deep to find motivation.
The Hilltoppers (6-5) will honor their seniors today as well, but WKU is still very much in the hunt for a bowl bid. A win over UNT would improve the Hilltoppers chances of landing in the postseason and end a three-game losing streak that sunk WKU’s hopes of challenging for the Sun Belt title.
The Hilltoppers were in the thick of the race after beating Arkansas State and Troy to open Sun Belt play, but hit a wall after a solid start. WKU has lost four of its last five games, including a devastating 31-27 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette last week.
The Ragin’ Cajuns drove 93 yards in 54 seconds and scored the game-winning touchdown on Terrance Broadway’s 14-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds left.
WKU head coach Willie Taggart cited the Hilltoppers inability to execute in key situations for their late-season slide.
Taggart has told his players throughout the week how important ending that slide could be for the program.
“We do have a lot to play for,” Taggart said. “We are a young program. If think about where we have come from, to get to a bowl game in my third year would be an accomplishment.”
UNT believed it had the ability to break its own bowl drought that began in the 2005 season heading into its opener at LSU, but didn’t quite make it to six wins.
“We just didn’t play well enough,” Power said. “A couple of games we let slip out of our hands. You have to put it together in those games.”
Seeing those opportunities get away, including a 14-7 loss to Troy, left the Mean Green little to play for other than pride today.
UNT will need to find all the motivation it can to challenge WKU.
“They are a real quality football team that is very physical and similar in style — especially offensively — to us,” McCarney said. “We are going to do everything we can to finish with what would be a great victory.”
Reaching that goal would mean a lot to UNT’s seniors, not to mention the rest of the Mean Green’s players who would like to send them out with a win.
“It’s always important to go out on a good note, especially since it could be the last game I ever play,” Fortenberry said. “You want it to be a win.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.