Several of North Texas’ veteran players spent a few moments looking back on a breakout 2013 season after the second scrimmage of spring practice Saturday.
Boxes upon boxes of Fossil watches had arrived with a blue Heart of Dallas Bowl logo on the face, a reward each player and coach received for playing a part in the Mean Green’s win over UNLV on New Year’s Day.
The gift reminded UNT’s players of what they achieved, while also serving as a reminder of the challenge they face this spring when the Mean Green must build a new identity. UNT lost a host of key players from a landmark senior class that included standout linebacker Zach Orr and Derek Thompson, a three-year starter at quarterback.
“This might be the most important spring since I have been here,” offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo said. “We lost some guys in key positions and lost some leaders. We have to find a new identity and guys to step up. We can’t take this spring lightly.”
Each workout and meeting in the spring is a part of the rebuilding process. Scrimmages are especially vital considering there are so few and they offer the best insight into what the Mean Green’s top options might be when it comes to replacing its cornerstones of a year ago.
UNT ran 55 live plays in its second scrimmage.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Dajon Williams continued to show flashes of potential at times while showing his inexperience at others. JUCO transfer Josh Greer, freshman Connor Means and veteran Andrew McNulty also played well at times while competing with Williams for the starting job.
“We saw some good flashes and had good things going on,” Y’Barbo said. “The energy was good. There was a lot of effort.”
That also was true on the defensive side, where players like linebacker Fred Scott and safety Sheldon Wade are battling for the opportunity to replace Orr and Marcus Trice, two of the cornerstones of UNT’s defense last season.
“It’s fun to see the team start to come together and build our own image,” cornerback Kenny Buyers said. “We have a lot of new faces on defense and are still trying to figure it out. We can’t hold on to what we did last year.”
Head coach Dan McCarney has emphasized to his team that rebuilding after a breakout year is a process, one that is in its early stages after just five workouts.
“You don’t just click your fingers, practice a few times and all of the sudden you have a new identity,” McCarney said. “Every team is different. One of the goals of this spring is to get some identity with this team. Who’s your leaders, who’s your best players, who’s your playmakers, who rallies people when adversity hits? That’s what spring ball is all about. I love it.”
UNT has to find new starters at quarterback, running back, middle linebacker, wide receiver and a host of other key positions.
And that will be just a part of the process.
The leadership void left by the departure of Orr and Trice, among others, also must be filled.
“We have good competition going and are trying to build this team,” McCarney said. “We are trying to build depth and identify the playmakers. We are trying to replace some fabulous seniors and get guys ready to play winning football in the fall.”
The success UNT experienced last year will give the Mean Green a much better base to build from this spring while working toward that goal.
If UNT ever needs a reminder of how it broke through for its first bowl win since 2002, it has a tangible reminder in the form of its new watches.
“It’s special and a beautiful memento of the season,” McCarney said. “It is something they can wear proudly the rest of their lives and hopefully give their kids or their grandkids some day. There is a lot of meaning behind that beautiful watch they got today.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.