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Running back core has historic spot to fill in spring season

Running back core has historic spot to fill in spring season

North Texas freshman running back Nic Smith runs the ball in a game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Sept.23 at Apogee Stadium. North Texas defeated UAB 46-43. Sara Carpenter

Running back core has historic spot to fill in spring season
March 06
14:46 2018

North Texas football is coming off one of its most successful seasons in recent years, due in large part to its historically great offense. The motor of that was the running game led by then senior Jeffery Wilson. Wilson performed so well, he was invited to the NFL Combine and has hopes of being drafted in April.

The Mean Green will have big shoes to fill in that role, as Wilson was fourth all-time in rushing yards (3,205), third in rushing touchdowns (32), and fourth in all purpose yards (4,009) at North Texas.

Although Wilson is no longer able to take hand offs for head coach Seth Littrell’s team, the roster still has plenty of talent to help fill the gap.

Junior Nic Smith finished second on the team in rushing yards last season (684) and is the heir to Wilson. The team also brought in the No. 6 ranked junior college running back recruit in DeAndre Torrey who rushed for 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games last season with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. In addition, the team is also returning sophomore Evan Johnson who totaled 239 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Replacing Wilson’s production will be a difficult task for the Mean Green, and Littrell believes it will take every facet of the offense to help continue their success from last season, including the men up front.

“The running game has a lot to do with a lot of different people,” Littrell said. “I think it is everyone. We have to do a better job on the perimeter making sure we get those to the second level, and our running backs have to do a good job of seeing the holes. It is a team deal.”

One of the ways Littrell has helped build this program is by bringing in experienced coaches to help create a new culture. One coach Littrell brought in is former NFL running back Tashard Choice. He was named the running backs coach not long after the team played its 2017 bowl game.

“He knows the position very well,” Littrell said. “He played in a similar system. Not only that, he is great with the kids and a great teacher. He is a great mentor on and off the field, and he is a guy who has been through it and understands what they are going through.”

Choice was in the NFL from 2008-13, spending his first three with the Dallas Cowboys. For his career, Choice finished with 1,579 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Choice is in his second season with the Mean Green, after spending last season as the team’s quality control coach.

As a coach, Choice believes sharing his experiences, his success and his failures will help the players on the field.

“When I am out here on the football field, I always try to make sure they understand why it is you do certain things,” Choice said. “They understand I have been through it and I have done it before, so once they understand that they will buy into you, and you have much more meaning after anything you say.”

Even with Choice leading the way and a successful 2017 season, the Mean Green still have to produce with the talent they have heading into the upcoming fall. North Texas has a few talented running backs on the roster who are trying to replicate the collective success from Wilson and Smith in 2017.

Torrey was three star prospect out of high school and had a productive freshman campaign in his one year at a community college. Torrey knew he could be successful with the Mean Green and was enamored with the environment of the program.

“I love the coaching staff, the environment and the school, but most of all, the relationship between me and coach Choice through the recruiting process,” Torrey said.

While new to North Texas, Torrey believes he can step in right away and replicate his success from last season.

With the opportunity and the winning environment established at North Texas last year, Torrey believes his style of play will translate to more wins in the fall.

“A personal goal I have is to be a thousand yard back,” Torrey said. “I think that will be a great goal for me. I am great catcher, and I want fans to know that I am very explosive, and I won’t quit on the team no matter what.”

Meanwhile, Smith is preparing for his third season with the Mean Green. He sat out his freshman season as a redshirt and last season had the backup role, but he started after Wilson went down late in the year due to injury.

Mean Green fans had to wait a season to watch him get on the field, and now he is primed for an even bigger 2018.

“I just got to stay focused, continue to work hard and keep my head level,” Smith said. “The big thing for us running backs is to just keep working hard.”

Now that he is the starter, Smith hopes to help the team in different ways than as the second option. In preparation for the upcoming season, Smith has a few key things to focus on as he aims to surpass his solid 684-yard season in 2017.

“I think the biggest thing is being explosive and finishing runs,” Smith said. “Just bringing the explosive play at any time.”

Featured image: North Texas freshman running back Nic Smith runs the ball in a game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Sept. 23 at Apogee Stadium. North Texas defeated UAB 46-43. Sara Carpenter

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Matthew Berger

Matthew Berger

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