Reggie Pegram could sense that there was something wrong with his knee as soon as he hit the turf during a win over Southern Mississippi last season.
What happened next is perhaps the best illustration of why the North Texas running back is highly respected by coach Dan McCarney and his teammates, who describe him as one of the toughest players in the program.
Pegram got right back up and carried the ball again, plowing into the end zone from a yard out.
“I limped off and told Mac that my knee was hurt,” Pegram said. “My adrenalin was pumping. I knew it was messed up, but it wasn’t really painful. I just knew something was wrong.”
Pegram found out a short time later that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee on a 1-yard run that preceded his touchdown carry. The Purdue transfer has been on the comeback trail ever since and will reach a key point in that process tonight when he plays in UNT’s annual mock game at Apogee Stadium.
UNT will run more than 100 plays in a closed scrimmage that will be one of its final tuneups before opening the season next Saturday at Texas.
Pegram will play against the Longhorns, providing a big boost for UNT, a run-first team that lost starter Brandin Byrd to graduation.
UNT has a solid veteran returning in Antoinne Jimmerson, who has 990 career rushing yards heading into his junior season, but needs a few other options to fill out a running back rotation that McCarney wants to become a staple of the program.
There might not be a better option than Pegram, who rushed for 338 yards and six touchdowns in just eight games last season.
“He has looked really good,” McCarney said. “With medical technology now, the batting average for players coming back is high, but to see him out there with the great attitude and competitive desire he has is great to see. He has had an excellent camp.”
Pegram attributes the way he has quickly moved back into UNT’s plans to the work he put in over the summer to recover following surgery to repair his ACL and torn cartridge.
From that point on, it was up to Pegram to put in the work to strengthen his knee before the start of the season.
“Rehab was tough,” Pegram said. “I was up here seven days a week trying to get my leg straight, get my speed back and get stronger. I was a long grind.”
While Pegram has yet to play in a game, his coaches and teammates have been impressed with the results.
“It looks like he hasn’t missed a beat,” UNT offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo said. “Even with a knee brace on, he’s moving really well. He rehabbed really hard. He wouldn’t be out there if he wasn’t 100 percent.”
UNT is hoping Pegram will quickly return to the form that made him such an important player last season. Pegram is a human battering ram at 5-9 and 221 pounds and excels when it comes to picking up tough yards.
Having Pegram available rounds out UNT’s toolbox at running back with the shifty Jimmerson and several smaller speedsters, including Erick Evans. Offensive coordinator Mike Canales said the redshirt freshman has the dynamic speed at running back UNT has lacked at times over the last few seasons.
“Reggie’s really physical and downhill,” McCarney said. “There is no question that he can help us. No. 2 will be out there on the field in Austin.”
Pegram has been working toward making that goal a reality for months.
“I’m excited,” Pegram said. “It’s been eight months since I played. I feel pretty good. I am 100 percent.”
McCarney: Mean Green still looking at QB options
McCarney has spent plenty of time evaluating UNT’s quarterback options since the end of last season and even more time answering questions about how that evaluation is going.
That doesn’t look like it will change heading into tonight’s mock game. UNT is considering starting both veteran backup Andrew McNulty and JUCO transfer Josh Greer. McCarney said Friday there is even a chance both could see playing time against the Longhorns.
“We are going to continue to evaluate,” McCarney said. “If it takes part of next week, fine. I don’t have a deadline and neither does coach Canales. It’s the same two that it has been all along. They have had really good camps and have really improved. There is no magical time.”
The obvious time to make an announcement would be Monday during McCarney’s press conference, but that is far from a hard deadline.
“I don’t feel like I have to announce it at the press conference Monday,” McCarney said. “We will announce it at the right time, when we have peace of mind, it’s been as fair as it can be and we can say ‘Let’s go.’ If this decision was easy, we would have made it a long time ago.”
The decision isn’t necessarily an either/or proposition.
“There is a possibility we play both, whether it’s by design or whether we go with the flow of the game, who is struggling and who could give us a lift,” McCarney said. “We will get this finalized real soon.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.