Dan McCarney brought a significant chunk of the audience with him for his annual signing day press conference Wednesday at Apogee Stadium — a group that happened to represent a big reason the North Texas coach said he has hope for the future of the program.
Quarterback Brock Berglund, running back Reggie Pegram and offensive lineman Justin Manu weren’t back at their high schools signing national letters of intent.
They are already at UNT, which is staking its future largely on the ability of transfers whose high school careers ended a while ago to make an immediate impact. The Mean Green added nine transfers among 23 players in its 2013 signing class.
“The guys in this room make me feel like we got better,” McCarney said. “If we are bringing players in from transfer situations or from junior colleges or grayshirts and they don’t make an impact right away, then I made a mistake. I don’t think I made a mistake with the nine guys who are here with me right now. There is class, there is character, there is work ethic.”
There also is an element of risk.
UNT signed just 14 high school players. If the Mean Green’s transfers don’t work out, there will be fewer high school players behind them to develop.
The Mean Green showed improvement in its first two seasons under McCarney, finishing 5-7 in 2011 and 4-8 last year.
Those nine wins in two years are more than the eight wins UNT posted in the four seasons before McCarney took over.
The challenge now is for UNT to take the next step — post a winning season and play in a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
McCarney has said that improving the talent and competition level on the team is the only way the Mean Green will improve. UNT brought in a host of transfers to move toward that goal.
There might not be a player in that group who comes with higher expectations than Berglund. The saga of the former Kansas quarterback was one that had many UNT fans waiting on the edge of their seats.
Berglund visited UNT, considered his options, made a brief stop at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College and ultimately joined the Mean Green last fall. He officially is a member of the Mean Green’s 2013 class, but he served as UNT’s scout team quarterback last season.
“It’s awesome,” Berglund said of seeing a time when he can play rapidly approaching. “I’m looking forward to the spring. I have a countdown on my phone of the days, the hours and the minutes until I get on the field. I had a chance to freelance a little with the scout team, but there is something about getting into the real offense, getting with [UNT offensive coordinator Mike] Canales and getting into the swing of things.”
McCarney said he is far from ready to turn over UNT’s offense to the unproven quarterback, especially with two-year starter Derek Thompson returning, but he indicated Berglund has been in a groove for some time.
“Brock made our defense look silly many, many times,” McCarney said. “We had guys out there spraining ankles and spraining knees trying to tackle him. He’s athletic, he’s tough, he can turn a bad play into a good one and a good one into a great one. Now he has to do it in our system with our calls. I am really excited about it.”
Berglund was No. 15 on Rivals.com’s list of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the class of 2011.
He’s just one of the transfers UNT signed who arrives with impressive credentials.
Justin Manu, an offensive lineman from Snow College in Utah, was a first-team NJCAA All-American last season, when Kilgore College cornerback James Jones was received All-America honorable mention.
Zed Evans played for Louisville last season and made a highlight-reel hit during the Cardinals’ win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Pegram transferred to UNT from Purdue, where he scored a pair of touchdowns in the Boilermakers’ win over Western Michigan in the 2011 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
“We are competing and making each other better at every position,” Jones said. “This group has people who played in bowl games, a running back who scored a couple of touchdowns in a bowl game and dominating offensive and defensive linemen. This group will help the program.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .