Football: UNT all abuzz as bowl game approaches

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Dan McCarney’s phone has been buzzing pretty much nonstop over the last few days, just like the phone in the North Texas ticket office.

UNT is only two days away from facing UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day, and those closest to the program say they sense an enthusiasm building unlike anything they have seen in years when it comes to Mean Green football.

UNT is breaking a nine-year bowl drought under McCarney, its third-year head coach who has been receiving well-wishes on a regular basis after leading the Mean Green to wins in six of its last seven regular-season games. That run includes attention-grabbing victories over regional rivals Rice, UTEP and Tulsa.

“People are hearing about us,” McCarney said. “It’s a feel-good story about what is happening here. Who doesn’t like a story about overcoming adversity and having some success? You have to be a depressing human being if you don’t like those kinds of stories, and that is what these seniors have done.”

UNT fans and alumni apparently are among those who are enjoying the story.

UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said late this week that the school’s ticket office has been busy for days.

“It has been overwhelming as far as the number of people who are coming in late for tickets,” Villarreal said. “Our folks are used to waiting up until almost game day. We have had a rush here at the end, but it has been really good. Student response has been unbelievable. We still have kids calling every day.”

That is just one way in which UNT’s players, coaches and administrators are feeling the impact of its surprise run to a bowl game in a year it was picked to finish fifth out of seven teams in Conference USA’s West Division.

The messages of congratulations are perhaps the most gratifying.

McCarney has heard from a host of former players from the various stops in his coaching career, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa State, South Florida and Florida. Cowboys defensive end George Selvie, who played at South Florida during McCarney’s time as an assistant coach with the Bulls, is among the players who took time to call.

“They believed we could get it done here, but when you finally do it, it is a really neat feeling,” McCarney said. “People are aware of what’s going on. It’s neat that we get this great spotlight for North Texas.”

UNT’s breakout season has caught the attention of not only McCarney’s former players, but members of the community as well.

“Everyone you see says congratulations and great job,” Villarreal said. “We try to deflect that to Dan and the kids. They have done an unbelievable job, especially the senior class. If for no other reason, it’s worth it to go to to the game to watch Zach Orr, Brelan Chancellor, Marcus Trice and a bunch of other people that I am leaving out play one last time. Those seniors have matured and believed 3 1/2 years ago that we would build something, stuck with it and saw it pay off.”

The story has given UNT as a whole a lift in addition to the boost it has provided the football program.

“This is a hard time in higher education,” outgoing UNT President Lane Rawlins said. “This kind of success means a lot. The credit goes to Dan and his coaching staff. We believed in him. It’s his ballgame.”

UNT’s players can sense what getting to this point has meant for the school and the program, which has made them want to win and finish the year on a high note even more.

“We can go out with a bang,” senior linebacker Will Wright said. “We really want to do it, not just for ourselves but also the UNT alumni and especially coach Mac.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.


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