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North Texas football looking to build on successful 2016 campaign as spring practice ramps up

North Texas football looking to build on successful 2016 campaign as spring practice ramps up

Head coach Seth Littrell talks to the football team after a practice. Littrell lead the Mean Green to the second best turnaround in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2016. Sara Carpenter

North Texas football looking to build on successful 2016 campaign as spring practice ramps up
March 27
17:01 2017

At this time last year, head coach Seth Littrell and the North Texas football program were in the process of a renovation. Littrell’s first order of business was implementing his “air raid” offense as well as fixing a defensive that got torched in 2015.

His changes worked, as the Mean Green finished the 2016 campaign with five wins and a close overtime loss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Now entering his second season as head coach, there are expectations. And while most of the pieces from last year’s staff are returning, there is still some turnover. With former defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler now in North Carolina, a new offensive line coach on staff and an influx of young recruits, Littrell is now tasked with making adjustments yet again to keep the Mean Green on the road to rebuilding.

“The approach really doesn’t change,” Littrell said. “It’s a whole new team obviously. Every year is a little bit different, [but] we have to continue to develop our skill set and make sure our fundamentals are good.”

Despite some fresh faces, North Texas returns key figures on both sides of the ball in senior running back Jeffery Wilson, sophomore quarterback Mason Fine, senior safety Kishawn McClain and junior defensive back Nate Brooks.

Wilson rushed for over 900 yards and Fine completed 59 percent of his passes for the Mean Green last season. On defense, McClain and Brooks combined for seven interceptions and 148 tackles on the team in 13 games. While returning the leading rusher and passer from last season will aid in consistency, there are still lingering questions on how new members of the team will gel.

Regardless, Littrell believes the offense has the tools to build on success they had last season.

“[The offense needs to] just continue to grow in the system,” Littrell said. “It’s year two, so guys should have a better understanding of what we’re trying to get accomplished, not only with the scheme but why we’re running the scheme.”

One of the changes that will impact the success of Fine and Wilson in the backfield was the hiring of offensive line coach Chuck Langston. Langston spent the last two seasons at Lamar University as both the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the Cardinals.

Junior quarterback Quinn Shanbour throws the ball at a scrimmage. Sara Carpenter

Coming off a year where the North Texas offensive line allowed the eighth-most sacks in the country among the 128 FBS schools, a change was desperately needed.

While the public will have to wait over five months to see if the change made a significant impact, the adjustments begin now in spring practice.

“I think we have to be more consistent,” Langston said. “The attitude, effort [and] work ethic is all there. We have ability. We’ve got a lot of potential, we just have to keep working. It’s mainly little things we can correct.”

Langston will have junior lineman Jordan Murray to build around as well as every lineman on the roster except for Sam Rice and Trey Keenan, who graduated.

With a new coach in place, Murray knows all eyes will be on the trenches and how they protect the quarterback come September.

“Now it’s make or break and [Langston’s] making that known that we have to get it done,” Murray said. “We had 43 sacks last year, the first thing he said is we have to get that way down.”

Similar to their offensive counterparts, the defense for the Mean Green also returns key starters in defensive backs Brooks, McClain and senior Eric Jenkins. The defense did, however, lose three of their five top tacklers from last year and now have a new defensive coordinator.

“Everyone [is] coming along,” McClain said. “The guys we replaced at linebacker, on the D-line, and safety [all] picked it up really fast. [Defensive Coordinator Troy Reffett] is about being physical, knowing your assignment, knowing your job and knowing what to do.”

While Reffett may be a new name among fans, he had a substantial role in the defense’s success last season when he served as the co-defensive coordinator and the safeties coach.

Littrell said he has high standards for the secondary unit under Reffett and there’s good reason to believe this defense has the secondary to disrupt opposing quarterbacks, especially since North Texas generated 14 interceptions last season.

Up front, the defensive line has passed every test so far in spring practices and has shown the ability to get in the backfield and harass the quarterback, something they struggled with at times last season.

“I think our D-line position is probably our deepest,” Littrell said. “I think it’s a place where there’s competition, so I think that’s the group right now, that’s our biggest strength.”

With last year’s bowl appearance fresh on their minds, many players are ready to suit up and build on the second best turnaround in the football bowl subdivision last season.

But no one is taking for granted valuable spring practice time.

“Any chance we get to come out here and improve, become better and build more chemistry is great,” Wilson said. “I wish we could do it all year.”

Featured Image: Head coach Seth Littrell talks to the football team after a practice. Littrell led the Mean Green to the second best turnaround in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2016. Sara Carpenter

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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