North Texas offensive coordinator Mike Canales was blown away when he ventured to East Texas to take a look at the Carthage receiving duo of Tee Goree and O’Keeron Rutherford.
Both had size, speed and a knack for running routes that left defenders turning in all the wrong directions.
The duo quickly became a priority for UNT in recruiting and, on Wednesday, the headliners of a signing class heavy on offensive skill-position players.
The Mean Green broke through for a 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day — its first bowl win since 2002 — largely due to a core of highly productive running backs and receivers and the veteran quarterback who got them the ball.
UNT’s coaching staff felt like it needed to reload after losing several of those players to graduation and says it reached its goal on national signing day.
“When you look at the receivers we lost,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said, “you had better address those needs.”
Goree and Rutherford were just part UNT’s efforts to reach that goal.
UNT also landed what McCarney says is one of the top receivers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Dallas South Oak Cliff’s Fonzale Davis and a talented wideout from Oklahoma in Jalen Adams.
Put them all together and UNT has a group of receivers with a lot of talent and even more impressive accolades.
Goree was named to the MaxPreps.com All-America team, while Rutherford was a first-team All-District 20-3A selection. The pair helped lead Carthage to the state title.
“The Carthage guys are the most developed, mature high school receivers I have seen in 10 or 12 years,” Canales said. “I was so impressed with how they ran routes. You don’t see that very often. They can transition out of cuts faster then they go into them. They are above and beyond high school receivers you find.”
Davis was named to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football’s All-Texas first-team offense, while Adams, from Moore Southmoore High, was a member of The Oklahoman’s Super 30 team of the top players in the state.
“Fonzale was one of the best kids we saw at our camps and around the state of Texas,” McCarney said. “We feel fortunate to sign him. We went to Oklahoma to get Jalen and feel he is a heck of a football player and wide receiver who will add to our offense.”
That group will have some big shoes to help fill next fall after the departure of Brelan Chancellor and Darnell Smith. Chancellor accounted for 181 all-purpose yards in the bowl win and a school-record 5,503 for his career.
Smith caught a team-high 70 passes last season.
“Goree has made a lot of really good defensive backs — Division I defensive backs —look silly in high school football in the state of Texas,” McCarney said.
UNT added to its core of skill-position players by signing a pair of running backs. The Mean Green is deeper in its offensive backfield with Antoinne Jimmerson and Reggie Pegram returning, but added Jeffery Wilson and Willy Ivery, who also come to UNT as highly regarded prospects.
Wilson earned first-team all-state honors in Class 2A during his senior season at Elkhart, when he rushed for 2,749 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Ivery accounted for 4,630 total yards during his career at Sulphur Springs.
Canales compared Ivery to former UNT great and current Cowboys back Lance Dunbar and saw similarities between Wilson and Brandin Byrd, who led the Mean Green with 1,075 rushing yards last season.
While UNT’s new wide receivers and running backs arguably were the headliners of its class, the Mean Green also signed a pair of quarterbacks in Navarro College transfer Josh Greer and Deer Park product Connor Means.
UNT lost quarterback and Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Derek Thompson to graduation and will have an open competition beginning in spring practice to fill the void.
The winner of that race will have some more weapons at his disposal in the fall with a host of talented and confident freshman receivers and backs arriving after signing with UNT on Wednesday.
“We are going to play right away,” Goree said of himself and Rutherford when he committed to UNT. “That’s exciting for us.”
What was equally as exciting for McCarney and his staff is feeling like they added the skill-position players they needed to build on UNT’s bowl win.
“I feel like we really addressed our needs,” McCarney said. “Ten of these guys were in our summer camps. We got up-close evaluations of them, most of whom have been committed to us for a long time, which means loyalty and commitment from us to them and their families and from them to us. That’s meaningful to me and my coaches.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.