Football: Lasting legacy

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North Texas senior wide receiver Darnell Smith, left, and junior offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo celebrate after beating Rice 28-16 on Oct. 31 to become 6-3 and bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004.

Bowl appearance in 100th year of UNT football special for seniors

DALLAS — North Texas’ players and coaches talked about the special opportunity in front of them months ago.

The school’s program turns 100 this season. Players like senior linebacker Zach Orr and a host of other veterans on the Mean Green’s roster wanted to make sure that milestone season would be remembered for a lot more than just that anniversary.

There is little doubt now that it turned out to be a breakout season.

The Mean Green (8-4) is headed to its first bowl game since 2004, has already won as many games as it has in any season since 2003 and posted a host of key wins. The Mean Green toppled Tulsa for the first time since 1969 and also beat instate rivals Rice and UTEP.

“This is what we talked about at the beginning of the year,” Orr said. “It’s the 100th year of North Texas football. We wanted to make it a special one and get to a bowl game.”

UNT is about to realize that goal.

The closer UNT gets to the game, the more the Mean Green’s players — and especially the team’s seniors — have thought about their legacy.

“It will add to the story if we can win a bowl in the 100th year,” senior tight end Daniel Prior said. “It’s a story already with what we have done, but we are not satisfied with eight wins. Our ultimate goal at the beginning of the year was to win a bowl and be a champion. For it to also be the 100th year is pretty cool.”

UNT will play in just the eighth bowl game in school history when it takes on UNLV on Wednesday. A win would build on the legacy of the Mean Green’s players who took the field in the program’s 100th year. UNT has won only two bowl games in its history, the last time in 2002, when the Mean Green beat Cincinnati in the New Orleans Bowl.

UNT head coach Dan McCarney showed his players a picture of the trophy that will go to the Heart of Dallas Bowl winner not long after the Mean Green received a bid to the game and has emphasized ever since what a win would mean for the program.

“It’s a beautiful, fantastic sign of achievement that we can put in the halls of North Texas if we win this game,” McCarney said.

UNT’s players thought a lot about what they have achieved so far during practice on Monday at Highland Park, and the heights they can reach with one more win. The workout was the last of full-scale drills the Mean Green will go through before its game against the Rebels.

“I kept thinking about today being my last official practice,” senior quarterback Derek Thompson said. “It hasn’t set in yet.

“It seems like yesterday I was pulling my pads on for the first time. It’s flown by and has been a hell of a ride. With one win we can cement our legacy.”

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


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