Football media day: Mean Green prepared to take on high expectations

Football media day: Mean Green prepared to take on high expectations

Football media day: Mean Green prepared to take on high expectations
July 18
17:16 2018

Matthew Brune | Senior Staff Writer

Head coach Seth Littrell’s team was voted favorite to repeat as West Division champions in Conference USA earlier this week by media members. North Texas broke onto the scene last season with a strong 9-5 campaign, but now all eyes have turned squarely onto their backs.

It’s a new position for North Texas football, and Littrell has had a slogan ready for it.

“Coach Littrell tells us all the time, ‘Dont drink the Kool-Aid,’ and that means don’t fall into the hype of anything,” senior linebacker E.J. Ejiya said. “Just continue to grind, put your head down and work.”

The Kool-Aid has become even sweeter throughout the summer as junior quarterback Mason Fine has been peppered with accolades and watch list honors, and the Mean Green as a team ranked as high as No. 46 in the FBS by one list entering the year.

The expectations begin with Fine, who returns after accomplishing arguably the best season in school history by a quarterback and has nearly his whole receiving core back. However, he and his coaches have not let anyone feel comfortable entering the year.

“Don’t get complacent, that’s the biggest thing,” Fine said. “What we did last year doesn’t mean anything. We’ve won zero games this year. We have a whole new team, a whole new season, so [our coaches] keep reinforcing that we need to keep doing what got us there — just be our core values.”

Littrell and his staff showed their growth last season as coaches as well, continuously learning and adjusting throughout the season. Entering this year, all of the position coaches are returning and Littrell added Tashard Choice as the running backs coach after Choice was the quality control coach last season.

“It’s huge because everyone’s on the same page,” Littrell said. “We’ve been together at least a year, so players aren’t having to learn a new coach and coaches aren’t having to coach the coaches, so it’s a way easier transition.”

The defense is the obvious question mark lingering over the Mean Green after allowing 35 points per game in 14 games last season. Depth was added over the offseason, and the competition is beginning to develop as a team.

Losing two captains — in safety Kishawn McClain and defensive lineman Andy Flusche to graduation — makes the task for defensive coordinator Troy Reffett all the more arduous. Ejiya is ready to step up as a leader, though, for a defense that needs him.

“We had great leaders in the past,” Ejiya said. “They paved the way for us to become a better team and for us to become better teammates. The type of guy I want to be is someone everyone can rally around, a guy that can hold people accountable and just be the best guy I can be.”

On the field, there has been a central focus for a defense hoping to find consistency.

“It’s been all communication for us,” Ejiya said. “We have to make sure everyone is on the same page, everyone knows the plays and everyone is on the same page. Coach always says it takes one guy to mess everything up, and when someone does mess up, we have to pick him up and move onto the next play.”

Offensively, keeping balance on an offense replacing an NFL-caliber running back can be difficult for Littrell and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.

“I have a lot of confidence in our running backs,” Littrell said. “Those guys had a really good spring as a group. It is hard to overcome [losing] Jeffery [Wilson], but it doesn’t have to be one guy. As we go through this year, we should still be balanced.”

Last season, after the secondary was torched in the first six games, Reffett spoke about how preseason rankings got to his defense’s head and hurt their play. This year, success should not be a surprise to the Mean Green. Everyone expects it, but it can still be tough to handle and overcome.

“Our expectations are high, and a lot of the guys haven’t experienced that since they’ve been in college,” Fine said. “We have great mentors, coaches and leaders that tell us, ‘Don’t read the news clippings, don’t read the articles, none of that matters.’”

‘Don’t drink the Kool-Aid’ is not a new term in the Mean Green locker room, Littrell said. But this year, it might have a little more meaning to a North Texas team who has not been in this position with these coaches and players.

“It’s understanding you have a target on your back,” Litrell said of aproaching the recognition. “You’re going to get everyone’s best. At the end of the day, all that matters are the voices in that locker room because they are the ones that understand what we have to do in order to accomplish the mission, so don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

Feature Image: File

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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