New football class brings size and leadership

New football class brings size and leadership

New football class brings size and leadership
February 05
00:16 2015

Scott Sidway / Staff Writer

The Mean Green football team grew by 25 members yesterday at National Signing Day, as the program extended 25 scholarships to 16 high school seniors and nine college transfer students.

“I know this is the best class I’ve brought in since I’ve been here,” head coach Dan McCarney said. “Who has a better measure of all that than the head coach? I do have a great measure to compare the classes we’ve brought in, and this is a very, very good class.”

The class of 2015 is split evenly between offense and defense, consisting of 12 offensive players and 13 defensive players. Eighteen of the 25 signees were all captains on their respective teams last season, either in high school or college. McCarney said finding high character players was a priority during the recruiting process.

“If you have character, you just don’t seem to have problems off the field,” McCarney said. “You don’t have distractions. If they’ve already shown that they can lead at a high school or junior college as captains, if you’re a captain, everybody respects you.”

On the defensive side of the ball, North Texas has some key voids to fill. Linebacker and captain Derek Akunne is one of 17 graduating seniors who will no longer play for the Mean Green, and one of eight departing players on the defensive end. The loss is a big one for the Mean Green, as the senior accounted for a team-leading 108 tackles last season.

One potential candidate for Akunne’s old position is Cortney Finney, who was named the NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year. Finney flies to the ball-carrier, leading Trinity Valley Community College with 104 tackles last season. He also finished the season with three sacks and four fumble recoveries, tied for the most in the country. One of the reasons he chose North Texas was for academics.

“The academic support here is none to other,” Finney said. “They make sure you have tutors and everything you need to be successful in the classroom, and that was real big to me.”

Another set of shoes to fill on the Mean Green defense are those of defensive back James Jones, who led the team with three interceptions and was second on the team in tackles.

That production could be filled immediately by Jakii Moore, a transfer from the University of Alabama at Birmingham who is projected to play strong safety. Moore comes to North Texas after the decision by UAB administration to shut down the school’s football program.

“I had just come out of junior college, and when it all got announced, it was a lot of emotion, especially for a lot of the seniors that were there,”  Moore said. “They felt like they had nothing to come back to.”

Moore was redshirted last season after suffering a season-ending injury as a sophomore at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, where he recorded 14 tackles and two interceptions. He said his decision to come to North Texas over his other primary suitor Bowling Green University was based on the coaching staff and location.

“I felt a better connection with Coach [LaMarcus] Hicks than I did with the [defensive backs] coaches at Bowling Green,” Moore said. “And plus, it is closer to home, so my mom can make it.”

On offense, the biggest holes to fill are along the offensive line. Graduating seniors Mason Y’Barbo and Cyril Lemon were both four-year starters for the Mean Green, forcing McCarney to prioritize the line for the first time in his four-year tenure as head coach.

North Texas rose to the occasion, signing five offensive linemen headlined by Jordan Murray out of Coppell High School. Murray stands at 6 feet 9 inches and weighs 319 pounds, one of three signees along the offensive front that are over 300 pounds. McCarney said he was looking for toughness when recruiting the linemen.

“There’s more height, there’s more size, there’s more width, there’s more girth. I really like this class,” McCarney said.

One of the biggest problems on the offense last year was quarterback play. The team went through three different starters due to inconsistency, and McCarney said addressing the position was critical.

“Anybody can be average in football, anybody,” McCarney said. “It’s hard to be elite, it’s hard to be special, and we were average at our best days in 2014 at quarterback.”

North Texas signed two quarterbacks, one from junior college and one out of high school. DeMarcus Smith was a four-star recruit entering Butler Community College and threw five touchdowns in one game twice last season. The other recruit is Caleb Chumley, a 6-foot-5-inch product of Pine Tree High School in Longview, Texas, who also possesses dual-threat ability and split time as a wide receiver.

Rounding out the offensive recruiting class are a trio of wide receivers, all more than 6 feet tall, and a tight-end out of Denton Guyer High School.

For the defensive class, there are five more defensive backs in addition to Moore, five defensive linemen and one more junior college linebacker.

The next chance to see the Mean Green in action is the annual spring game, which takes place on April 18 at 2 p.m.

Featured Image: Head coach Dan McCarney, left, talks to local media yesterday afternoon at Apogee Stadium about the high school students who signed their letters of intent to play for the Mean Green. Photo by Ryan Vance – Senior Staff Photographer

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