North Texas Daily

Football squad begins to take shape following spring ball

Football squad begins to take shape following spring ball

Football squad begins to take shape following spring ball
April 13
17:21 2022

As spring practice drew to a close last weekend, the football team got closer to solidifying how it will take the field come August. 

North Texas (6-7, 5-3 Conference USA in 2021) is in a transitional period following the departure of multiple players due to graduation, declaration for the NFL Draft and entering the transfer portal. With a new dynamic in key parts of the team, head coach Seth Littrell said it looks better now than it did in the beginning of spring.

“I think overall we’ve improved as a team which is what you’re really looking for ultimately,” Littrell said. “There were some good things on both sides [of the ball].”

Two quarterbacks transferred into the program this offseason, sophomores Stone Earle from Abilene Christian University and JD Head from Louisiana Tech University. However, all words from the coaching staff have indicated junior Austin Aune is the frontrunner to keep his starting quarterback job for the 2022 season.

“Until someone takes it from Austin [Aune], it’s Austin Aune’s job,” Littrell said. “That’s how this works, that’s how life works, that’s how a position on this team works. Someone has to knock [Mike] Tyson out if they want the championship.”

Returning for the 2022 season was up in the air for Aune after he started the Mean Green’s final nine games of 2021. The 28 year old is approaching his fifth season at North Texas following a brief stint with the University of Arkansas and minor league baseball career prior to his college football career. Off the field, Aune’s first child was born earlier this year which added another facet to his decision.

Aune has previously said 2022 will be his final year of football even though he will have an additional year of eligibility left after the season. 

“I stayed just to play football,” Aune said. “[…] I still got the fire for it inside, still love the game and [I’m] so happy I came back and finished the spring to give me momentum.”

The wide receiver corps added University of Missouri transfer Jay Maclin to an already crowded room. Maclin, the cousin of former NFL player Jeremy Maclin, played for two years at Mizzou before transferring to the Mean Green. The 5-foot-11 receiver played predominantly with the first team during spring ball, flashing speed and a potential impact for the team come fall. 

Joining Maclin in making waves at receiver is sophomore Dorian Morris, who converted from defensive back to the receiver position in 2022. Juniors Tommy Bush and Roderic Burns are also returning to the mix, giving a hint of the familiar to a new-look receiver group.

“Right from the jump when I came in they all took me in like I’ve been here already,” Maclin said. “I appreciate those guys for helping me out with a bunch of plays. […] I asked them for help, they got my back. I just do my part.”

A flurry of transfers and declarations for the NFL Draft opened the door in spring for new faces to emerge as replacements on defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s defense. Dion Novil’s declaration for the NFL Draft and the transfer of twins Grayson and Gabriel Murphy left a significant hole to fill in the North Texas defensive line.

Sophomore defensive linemen Tom Trieb (transfer from College of DuPage) and Enoch Jackson emerged as early favorites in spring to help replace the production lost from the departed members of the unit. With questions going into next season after losing all four starters along the line, Jackson said it improved over the course of spring.

“At first we were making a lot of mental mistakes,” Jackson said. “The more people got in within the playbook, the more stuff started to click and the more we start to just pop off.”

The Mean Green’s secondary remains relatively stable with the only losses coming from now Western Kentucky University defensive back Upton Stout and former safety Makyle Sanders to declaration for the NFL Draft. A graduate transfer from Utah State University, senior defensive back Zahodri Jackson has emerged as a favorite to potentially take the starting cornerback spot adjacent to junior John Davis.

Littrell wrapped up spring by saying he felt better about the direction his team is heading toward.

“I feel better about the culture,” Littrell said. “That’s the thing I’m looking for as much as anything. These guys, they love ball, they love each other. If you don’t have that culture, it’s really challenging.”

Featured Image: The UNT football team practices in the Lovelace and McNatt Families Practice Facility on April 6, 2022. Photo by Kristian Freeman

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

fall sports editor

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