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UNT 2015 recruiting class review: Early attrition cuts into group

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

North Texas was looking to get back on track heading into signing day in 2015.

The Mean Green had posted one of the biggest wins in program history at the end of the 2013 season -- a victory over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. UNT failed to build on that win the following year with a 4-8 finish.

That dip left UNT scrambling to boost its talent level and fill key holes in its lineup with its 2015 recruiting class. None of those holes was bigger than the one at quarterback, where the Mean Green have struggled to fill the void left by Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Derek Thompson.

UNT went out and signed junior college quarterback DaMarcus Smith, one of a handful of plug-and-play transfers.

Some worked out, most didn't. There are only 11 players from the class remaining with the team, a stunningly low number.

Smith never turned into the player UNT hoped he would be and left the program. The Mean Green went on to suffer a disastrous 1-11 season that led to the dismissal of Dan McCarney in the middle of the 2015 season.

There were plenty of reasons why UNT's program fell apart, but a 2015 class that didn't pan out as planned certainly was a factor. Junior college defensive back Xavier Grindle failed to qualify and seven other players have already left the program.

The following is a look back:

Number of signees: 24

Still with team: 11

Players in NFL: 0

Star of the class: UNT signed two defensive backs who ended up being key players in Nate Brooks and James Gray. UNT won a head-to-head battle against Louisiana Tech, one of the best and most consistent programs in Conference USA, to land Brooks. The former Whitehouse standout has gone on to become one of the better cornerbacks in the league. He became a starter as a freshman and was an honorable mention All-C-USA selection last season, when he finished with 57 tackles and four interceptions. Gray was a two-year starter at safety after transferring to UNT from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas and finished with 168 tackles in his career. He was one half of one of the top safety combinations in C-USA in 2015 and 2016 with Kishawn McClain.

Surprise of the class: Offensive lineman Elex Woodworth wasn't a particularly highly rated recruit. Northwestern State was the only other school to offer the Mesquite Horn product. Woodworth redshirted as a freshman and then went on to start eight games at guard or tackle in 2016. He is expected to start at one of those two spots again this fall, depending on how senior Jalen Thomas fares at right tackle. UNT would like to start Thomas, who has a high ceiling, at tackle and move Woodworth inside.

Biggest disappointment: UNT has struggled to find a long-term solution at quarterback ever since Thompson threw for 2,896 yard and 16 touchdowns in 2013. The Mean Green were going to sign a JUCO quarterback in their 2015 class and picked Smith. He never turned out to be the player UNT hoped he would be and left the Mean Green searching for another solution. That search is still on-going. UNT hasn't had a player come close to the level Thompson played at late in his career, at least not on a consistent basis. Thompson threw for the second-most yards for a single season in school history as a senior, when he posted three 300-yard games and seven 200-yard games. He ranked third in C-USA in passing efficiency that season at 133.6. UNT has had three 300-yard passing games total in the three seasons since while starting six different quarterbacks.

Poised to break out: Defensive lineman Roderick Young has been a solid player in his first two seasons at UNT and could be set to break out this fall when he should see time at defensive end in UNT's scheme that features a three-man front. Young is a load at 294 pounds and is quick enough to play on the edge. UNT is adding Kansas State transfer Bryce English at nose tackle. English will draw attention and give Young a chance to become a playmaker.