Antoinne Jimmerson’s 78-yard catch-and-run in a victory over Louisiana-Lafayette last fall was the play of the year for North Texas.
The dramatic touchdown in the closing minutes gave UNT a win over the Ragin’ Cajuns and a shot of momentum, not to mention some extra publicity from a nationally televised game.
The memories of that moment were not what drove Jimmerson during the offseason, though. It was the opportunities that he missed that stuck with him.
“I was getting caught from behind,” Jimmerson said. “I wanted to finish plays.”
That desire led Jimmerson to cut his weight from 225 pounds to 212 heading into the Mean Green’s season opener against Idaho on Aug. 31, when he will be a key component of UNT’s running game.
UNT returns its top two running backs in Brandin Byrd and Jimmerson, who rushed for 875 yards and 544 yards, respectively, in 2012.
UNT lost a key contributor in Jeremy Brown, who chipped in with 505 yards as a senior, but added Reggie Pegram, who transferred from Purdue.
Those players could help UNT continue a tradition of featuring a solid running game.
“We are looking good,” said Tommy Perry, who is entering his first season as UNT’s running backs coach. “They are a mature group. You never want to go into a season with less than three. We are pretty fortunate in that we have at least four who can play.”
Byrd, Jimmerson and Pegram should see significant playing time. UNT also could utilize redshirt freshman Rex Rollins.
Perry said that each brings slightly different talents to UNT’s offense.
Byrd is an intelligent player and consistent performer. Jimmerson is elusive, while Pegram is a stocky back who is tough to tackle at 218 pounds. Rollins has dynamic speed that could make him an option as a change-of-pace back.
Perhaps the best aspect of the situation for UNT is that its top three backs all have shown the ability to power a team’s running game at the college level.
Bryd posted three 100-yard games last year and has 1,127 rushing yards in his career.
Jimmerson rushed for 139 yards in a win over Texas Southern and was a threat in the passing game while making three touchdown receptions on the season.
Pegram sat out last season after transferring from Purdue, but he scored two touchdowns in the Boilermakers’ win over Western Michigan in the 2011 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Perry said UNT has at least four players he would be comfortable with putting in a game. That would be nothing new for UNT, which had three running backs finish with at least 500 rushing yards for the first time in program history last season.
“I love the situation with our running backs,” head coach Dan McCarney said. “I’m so proud of what we have done since I’ve gotten here from an evaluation and recruiting standpoint. Tommy Perry has said a number of times that he is happy with what he has and has thanked our staff for what they have done to get those guys here.”
Jimmerson is ready to rejoin that rotation after missing the final two games of the 2012 season after breaking his shoulder blade in a win over South Alabama.
“It was tough,” Jimmerson said. “I didn’t want to miss playing with my brothers. The senior class was a good one. I hated missing playing with those guys.”
Jimmerson has been preparing to make up for lost time ever since and has focused on shedding weight to improve his speed and the quickness that has always been his best asset.
“I feel lighter, a whole lot better than I did,” Jimmerson said. “I wanted to get faster and shiftier so that I can be a more explosive back.”
That dedication could make Jimmerson an asset yet again in a core of running backs McCarney and Perry expect to be one of the Mean Green’s strengths this fall.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.