Kaydon Kirby hasn’t received a nickel from North Texas yet, at least not when it comes to scholarship money. What he has received may be something even more valuable — a shot to show that he has the ability to start as a redshirt freshman for the Mean Green.
The former Flower Mound standout came to UNT as a preferred walk-on a year ago, something that has yet to change as he competes to fill the rather large void left by the graduation of starting center Aaron Fortenberry.
Fortenberry was the anchor of UNT’s offensive line last season, not to mention the only member of the Mean Green to be named to the All-Sun Belt Conference first team.
Kirby is filling that void with UNT’s first-team offense while competing with junior college transfer Shawn McKinney for the starting job.
“This is a big spring for me,” Kirby said. “I didn’t get any Division I offers out of high school but got a lot of Division II offers. When coach McCarney gave me the opportunity to walk on here, I fell in love with the school.”
UNT is just as happy to have Kirby as it continues to evaluate an offensive front that has been among its best units over the last several years. UNT allowed just six sacks last season — the lowest total among Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
UNT’s offensive line also played a vital role in an effective running game last season, when the Mean Green ranked fifth in the Sun Belt with an average 173.5 rushing yards per game.
Fortenberry was a vital part of that success, making the calls and adjustments for a group of six linemen who filled five spots. Coleman Feeley rotated with LaChris Anyiam at tackle.
While UNT lost a few key players to graduation after last season, Foretnberry might have been the most important, considering the impact he made with both his individual talent and the way he helped the Mean Green’s offensive front adjust during games.
“There is a drop-off at center right now,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “We just lost a first-team all-conference guy. Neither Kaydon nor Shawn are playing as well as Fortenberry did. It will take those guys some time, but we are pleased with the progress of both.”
McCarney said that progress is apparent when it comes to Kirby’s physical stature. He is listed at 6 feet, 3 inches and 300 pounds — up 10 pounds from when he arrived in Denton.
It was Kirby’s size coming out of high school that probably held him back in the recruiting process. A host of Division II schools offered him scholarships, but no FBS school would take a chance on him, likely because he is short for a major-college lineman.
“He is a little undersized and is not that tall,” McCarney said. “He has really put on some good weight since he got here and reshaped his body. That is what you are trying to do with a lot of these guys — reshape your body and reshape your career.”
Kirby realized that he had a golden opportunity to grab a spot on the depth chart this spring after learning how to handle the job of an FBS center from quite possibly the best tutor he could ask for in Fortenberry. He spent the last few months making sure he took advantage of his chance.
“I have been working hard my entire life for this opportunity,” Kirby said. “I hope to take the spot. I’ve been doing well, learning the plays, studying the playbook and competing for a starting job.”
McCarney has spoken often about how he loves to give walk-ons an opportunity and said he has little doubt that Kirby will be another in a long line of players to capitalize on the chance.
That sentiment is one his fellow linemen echoed.
“He is looking good for a kid who is new to the program,” Anyiam said. “He is working hard and staying in his playbook.”
McCarney said he believes there “is not a mistake in the bunch” when it comes to UNT’s group of junior college and FBS transfers. ... McCarney also was happy with the way UNT’s offense ran the ball during a 60-play scrimmage at the end of practice on Wednesday.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter @brettvito.