Ryan Munthe took a look around on a sizzling fall day a month ago and hated what he saw during North Texas’ come-from-behind win over Ball State.
The Mean Green put on an inspired performance to rally from 18 points down, and did it in front of mostly empty stands at Apogee Stadium.
The turnout made Munthe, a 21-year-old senior, think about what was preventing UNT from developing a bigger fan base before comments head coach Dan McCarney made last week convinced him it was time to act.
“We need our fans,” McCarney said in the days leading up to UNT’s game against Middle Tennessee on Saturday. “It’s easy to say, ‘Win, Mac; Win, North Texas; Go win, but I’m not coming to the game this week.’ How about come to the stadium, help support us, and together let’s keep moving forward with this program? That is what I’m asking, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”
McCarney got a little of what he was looking for during a 34-7 win over the Blue Raiders on Saturday, and not just on the field. An announced crowd of 21,171 watched the Mean Green improve to 3-0 at home despite less-than-ideal weather conditions.
McCarney didn’t know it at the time, but his impassioned call for a culture change at UNT reached at least one person in Munthe.
“It was a tipping point for a lot of people,” Munthe said of McCarney’s comments. “What he said mirrored a lot of what I was already thinking.”
So Munthe did what any college student would do these days. He took to Twitter.
Munthe’s account @FillApogee has picked up a little steam, nearly 150 followers and the attention of a few local media members who have re-tweeted his messages promoting UNT football. He also plans to put up posters across campus dispelling some of the long-standing misconceptions about UNT football, including that the school has never had successful teams or talented players.
Those are reasons Munthe often hears as to why more students don’t to go games at UNT, which has struggled with attendance for years.
UNT had a great four-year run as Sun Belt Conference champion from 2001-04 but averaged more than 16,000 fans a game just once, in 2003. A crowd of 29,437 for a win over Baylor that is still the largest in program history boosted UNT’s average to 18,694 that season.
UNT’s move to Apogee Stadium from Fouts Field was supposed to be the big boost the Mean Green needed. There is no doubt it helped. UNT set an all-time total attendance record in its first season in the stadium in 2011, when it drew 113,186 fans for six games, but the school has yet to sell out a game at Apogee.
After UNT drew 21,975 for its win over Idaho — its first season opener at home in 12 years — Munthe was one of 14,747 who showed up to watch UNT knock off Ball State.
The bottom line is that UNT’s attendance issues were never going to be solved completely by moving to Apogee, a fancy new $79 million stadium. Switching from the Sun Belt to Conference USA and facing its more appealing lineup of regional opponents was never going to be a cure-all either.
Those improvements have all helped as UNT’s attendance has crept up over last decade, but the school still faces challenges.
Thousands of students who attend UNT grew up as Texas or Texas A&M fans. UNT also hasn’t had a winning season since 2004, when most of UNT’s students were in elementary school.
UNT is going to have to win consistently, and do it against regional rivals, to get to where it wants to go.
McCarney pointed out that the future of UNT’s program will be tied at least in part to its ability to reach those goals while building its fan base.
“Who wants to come in and play in front of three-quarters-empty stadiums, half-empty stadiums? I don’t, players don’t,” McCarney said. “Recruits don’t want to see that. They want to see support, they want to see energy, enthusiasm and passion. I think they will see that.”
UNT’s coaches and players did see that in their win over the Blue Raiders and took to Twitter after the game to offer their thanks to the fans who came to the game.
Offensive coordinator Mike Canales, team captain Zach Orr and fellow linebacker Will Wright were among the Mean Green’s coaches and players who posted messages on their accounts thanking the Mean Green’s fans for coming to Apogee.
UNT still has a long way to go to get to where it wants to be in terms of its performance on the field or in mustering the type of fan following that will push the program to new heights.
But there is little doubt that what transpired Saturday was a step in the right direction. UNT is 3-3 for the first time since 2003 and drew a respectable crowd that helped the Mean Green get there.
Plenty of people played a role, including Munthe, who heard McCarney’s call for help and decided to respond.
“I’m really happy with the way it has turned out so far,” Munthe said. “I feel like I played a part. That was one of the best crowds we have had at Apogee.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.