Friday Night Lights preview

One of the more important dates on the UNT football calender has arrived. The Mean Green’s Friday Night Lights camp is tongiht.

UNT’s football staff travels the state and sees a host of the best players in Texas high school football at its satellite camps. The best of the best are often invited to Denton for the final camp in the series — Friday Night Lights.

The concept is pretty common in college football. Schools often have select camps for their top prospects.

The format UNT follows is a bit different. Friday Night Lights is open to any high school player who wants to come. Players can register for the event that begins at 5 p.m. before the camp.

In the end, UNT ends up with a mix of high school players from the region and several of its top recruiting targets.

We ran a preview of the event in today’s paper.

There were 417 players who showed up last year, including a few key recruiting targets. Elkhart running back Jeffery Wilson, Rosenberg Terry defenisve back Kishawn McClain, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M linebacker Akii Smith and Flower Mound offensive lineman Christopher Miles all committed to UNT after attending last year’s Friday Night Lights event.

Tyler JC offensive lineman Drew Sarvary (Florida), Tyler JC defensive end William Coleman (Mississippi State) and Garrett Davis (Houston) were among the other top prospects at least year’s camp who went on to sign with other schools. Davis committed to UNT before changing his mind.

So who are the top targets who will be at this year’s camp?

Converse Judson guard Abdul Beecham is scheduled to attend, according to his father. We wrote about Beecham in our on-going UNT recruiting target series. Beecham is a heavy UNT lean. I would be surprised if he doesn’t officially commit to UNT tonight.

Trinity Valley wide receiver Jarvis Baxter, who committed to SMU out of high school, is also supposed to be at UNT tonight. We talked to Baxter after he visited UNT.

Greenville wide receiver D’erren Wilson is also supposed to be at the camp. Indiana, BYU and Arkansas State are considered the favorites to land Wilson, who said late this summer when we talked to him that he is waiting to consider his options before committing.

UNT has commitments from eight players at this point, including three who committed in the last week or so. Here’s the full list and a look at where UNT stands.

That list could soon have a couple of additions after tonight’s camp. I will be there.

Stay tuned.

Opponent watch — Texas suspends wide receivers

Texas suspended wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander today. Both face face felony sexual assault charges stemming from an incident in late June.

Chuck Carlton from the Morning News has the story.

Sanders caught 37 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown last season, when he was one of Texas’ top receivers.

We bring it up for the obvious reason — UNT opens at Texas on Aug. 30.

Texas is one of those elite programs that can lose a key player like Sanders and just pull another four-star, top-end talent off the bench.

Texas is going through a time of transition under Charlie Strong, though. Added turmoil is only going to help UNT’s chances of pulling off what would be arguably the biggest win in program history.

The situation is one to watch in the coming weeks.

Thursday afternoon tidbits (UTSA offers UNT target, the hate debate)

I was sitting with Jerry Briggs of the San Antonio Express-News at Conference USA media day this week and heard UNT coach Dan McCarney talk a little about the Mean Green’s loss to UTSA.

Mac was gracious as always and gave Jerry some material that he turned into a nice little story on where everyone was picked in the preseason poll.

The reaction has solidified my feeling that I was on the button when I dubbed the the Mean Green’s game against the Roadrunners last year the “UNT Fans Wing Zone Green Kool-Aid Suicide Pact Game.”

It was meant to be funny, but it was also true. There is a lot of downright hate for UTSA from UNT fans. UNT toiled for 100 years to get to where it’s at in C-USA. UTSA got there in a fraction of that time, and beat UNT in the first game between the teams.

UNT plays at UTSA in the final game of the regular season this year.

Depending on the way things go, that game could end up being huge. If it does, it will only add to the developing rivalry between the schools. And yes, it is becoming a rivalry.

And speaking of the rivalry …

The Roadrunners have offered Oklahoma offensive lineman Shane Block (great name for a lineman) who we featured in our UNT recruiting target series a while back.

MGB video: McCarney talks about season at C-USA media day, notes

UNT coach Dan McCarney was a popular guy at Conference USA media day this week. He took a minute or two to shoot a video with me. We talked a little about the upcoming season and where the Mean Green is at as the beginning of two-a-days on Aug. 5 looms.

I wrote a story and a notebook for today’s paper on what went down at media day.

The big topic of the day was the changing landscape in college athletics and full cost of attendance scholarships. Conference USA will go in that direction, one that will provide players more money to live than they have in the past.

That issue ties in with the top five conferences in college football potentially being granted autonomy from the rest of the schools in college athletics. It’s going to happen — likely in a couple of weeks.

We covered both topics in today’s main story.

The key point when it comes to full cost of attendance scholarships is that schools are going to need a whole lot more money to cover the added expense. How much depends largely on the school, but the rough estimate we settled on in the media room after talking to everyone is schools will need $345,000 and $1.15 million more per year, a figure based on a rough estimate of 230 student-athletes receiving an additional $1,500 to $5,000 more than their current scholarships provide.

I am like a lot of other UNT fans out there who wonder if the school deciding to sell beer at football games right about the same time the higher-cost scholarships come into play is more than a coincidence.

The bottom line is that there is a whole lot of money flowing into college athletics. A lot of people, including some of the players on the field, are becoming more and more disenchanted with a system that only provides the basics of room, board, books and a small amount of money on the side.

A lot of college coaches and fans believe that should be enough, but people in that camp are quickly becoming the minority. The argument of playing for the glory of the green or the orange and white or the crimson and cream is quickly becoming an antiquated notion.

Full cost of attendance scholarships are another step in that direction.

As far as the top conferences potentially being granted autonomy, the move is another step that will widen the divide between top schools and the ones with lesser resources chasing them.

McCarney and his players talked about wanting the opportunity to play teams like Texas. McCarney is a big advocate of the bowl system and wants to maintain it in a time when a college football playoff is set to begin.

Our notebook covers a few items, including the development of a new team personality, the status of UNT’s suspended players and how UNT is handling being a favorite this year. We also checked in with Florida Atlantic coach Charlie Partridge, who hired former UNT great Chris Hurd for his first staff. He had a lot of good things to say about one of the cornerstone players from UNT’s New Orleans Bowl run that began in the early 2000s.

C-USA media days wrap-up thoughts and tidbits

After banging out a few stories for the tomorrow’s papers, I’m back with some follow-up thoughts from Conference USA media day.

I wrote a main story and a notebook for tomorrow’s DRC (buy the newspaper), so there isn’t much I didn’t get in, but here’s one tidbit I omitted.

Dan McCarney talked a little about opening against Texas and facing SMU early in the season …

“North Texas has never beaten Texas and is 4-28 against SMU [actually, it's 4-28-1, but who's counting?],” McCarney said. “Rivalry? Rivalry at 4-28? We had better establish one where we have a chance and they have a chance. Do the math, there is no rivalry.”

McCarney has a point.

The bottom line, though, is this — If you think McCarney is beloved and pretty much an employee of UNT for as long as he wants to be now, just wait and what happens if he beats SMU.

And I’m not saying that Mac hasn’t earned that kind of respect. He has.

I posted most of the key news tidbits, but to review …

– UNT still has no idea who its quarterback will be. Andrew McMulty and Josh Greer will split snaps with the first and second teams. Dajon Williams and Connor Means will split snaps with the second and third teams. And yes, UNT not having a quarterback at this point should scare the heck out of UNT fans.

– Reggie Pegram should be back to full speed and looks like he will compete with Antoinne Jimmerson for starting job.

– McCarney also really likes Rex Rollins.

– A guys have stepped into leadership roles, including some unexpected characters in Kenny Buyers and Carlos Harris.

It was also worth noting that UNT really downplayed being a favorite in the league.

Cyril Lemon talked about maintaining that underdog attitude.

That pretty much covers the UNT end of it, but the big league-wide news is that C-USA is going to full cost of attendance scholarships. That means more money for players. The league had to go that way to stay competitive. I talked to a lot of people about it and the autonomy issue for the five top leagues for my main story in tomorrow’s paper.

Conference USA media day running blog

Update 11:00 — The morning session, which had UNT’s coaches and players wrapped up a few minutes ago. Here are a few highlights:

– Dan McCarney called UNT’s incoming freshman class maybe the most athletic that he has brought in during his time at UNT.

– The quarterback race is wide open. When practice begins, Andrew McNulty and Josh Greer will rotate with the first and second teams. Dajon Williams and Connor Means will rotate with the third and fourth teams. UNT isn’t close to deciding who to go with at this point.

– McCarney, Lemon and Akunne all said that UNT is starting to develop an identity as a team. A few guys who were never leadership types in the past like Carlos Harris are moving into those roles after the departure of Zach Orr and guys like him.

– Reggie Pegram looks like he has fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the last five games of last season. McCarney indicated that UNT will rotate backs again this year and that Antoinne Jimmerson still has some work to do.

– Lemon that UNT will always start with the base goal of winning six games, but he would like to win a conference title.

– Linebacker Sed Ellis and tight end Chris Loving are still suspended, but are working out on campus. They are not with the team. McCarney said he would decide before the beginning of two-a-days is both will be reinstated.

Update 8:50 — Executive playoff director Bill Hancock says that the playoff will not detract from Saturdays in college football.

Update 8:45 — C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said that the model for college athletics is under review and that change is on the horizon. The move to full cost of attendance scholarships is a change the league supports.

Today is the big day, or at least one of the big days leading up to UNT’s season opener at Texas. It’s Conference USA media day.

I will update the blog throughout the day with notes and tidbits.

Leading off — The one news item that I haven’t mentioned on the blog yet is that David Ash has been named the starter at Texas. That kills one of the interesting storylines of UNT’s season-opener — UNT taking on Texas with Guyer grad Jerrod Heard starting at quarterback for the Longhorns.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Heard at least sees the field in the opener, though.

I just ran into Dan McCarney, Cyril Lemon and Derek Akunne in the lobby. The trio will represent the Mean Green today during interviews later in the day. Lemon was named to the preseason all-conference team along with fellow guard Mason Y’Barbo.

3 UNT media-day storylines to follow: Can UNT build on a breakout season?

North Texas coach Dan McCarney will join offensive lineman Cyril Lemon and linebacker Derek Akunne at Conference USA media day on Wednesday in Dallas. (DRC/David Minton)

When: Wednesday, July 23

Where: DFW Marriott North

Who: Dan McCarney, LB Derek Akunne, OL Cyril Lemon

North Texas will enter its second season in Conference USA with the goal of proving that last year’s 9-4 season capped by a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl was no fluke.

The Mean Green was flat loaded last season, when several of the better players in recent program history were seniors, including wide receiver Brelan Chancellor, linebacker Zach Orr, safety Marcus Trice, quarterback Derek Thompson and running back Brandin Byrd. Those key players led UNT to its first winning season since 2004 and just the third bowl win in program history. UNT will look to a few key veterans and a host of young players to help the Mean Green continue its rise under McCarney.

Two of those key veterans will represent UNT at media day. Cyril Lemon will start at guard for the fourth straight year and is on the watch lists for the Lombardi and Outland trophies. Akunne is headed into his third year as a starter.

Here are three storylines to keep an eye on when it comes to UNT.

1. Where does the quarterback race stand? UNT ended spring practice without making a whole lot of progress when it comes to picking a replacement for Thompson, the MVP of the Heart of Dallas Bowl and a three-year starter who threw for 7,447 yards in his career. UNT entered spring practice with four players in the hunt for the starting job before junior Andrew McNulty and JUCO transfer Josh Greer emerged as the top two candidates. Redshirt freshman Dajon Williams might have more talent than any of UNT’s quarterbacks, but was inconsistent and then suffered an ankle injury that prevented him from playing in the spring game. Despite that injury, McCarney and offensive coordinator Mike Canales said Williams will be involved in a three-way competition with McNulty and Greer this fall.

2. What is the status of players charged with theft in the off-season? Linebacker Sed Ellis and tight end Chris Loving were both charged with theft following an incident involving a pair of televisions at a Denton Walmart this summer. Both were suspended indefinitely. UNT lost six of its seven starters in its defensive front seven to graduation. Ellis was one of UNT’s few backups with experience and was listed as a co-starter after spring practice at one outside linebacker spot with Jamal Marshall. UNT has solid depth at tight end, but could use an extra weapon in Loving, a highly regarded JUCO prospect who has fought injuries since arriving at UNT. The Mean Green could use both this season. McCarney could provide an update on the status of both players.

3. Who will UNT’s playmakers be on offense? UNT lost a 1,000-yard rusher in Byrd and its top two wide receivers in Chancellor and Darnell Smith, who combined for 123 catches, 1,583 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Antoinne Jimmerson returns and is expected to start at running back, where UNT will also have Reggie Pegram. The Purdue transfer missed the last five games of the 2013 season with a knee injury and will be back this fall. Carlos Harris returns at wide receiver, but there is little doubt UNT needs some young players, including freshman Tee Goree of Carthage, to contribute.

UNT signees in action in tonight’s all-star game

Kishawn McClain and Jeffrey Wilson, who will both be freshmen at UNT this fall, will play for the South tonight in the Texas High School Coaches Association All-Star Game.

The game will be played at 7 p.m. at the Alamodome and will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest.

Wilson is a running back from Elkhart who rushed for 2,749 yards last season when he was the MVP of District 11-2A, Division I and a Class 2A all-state selection. Here is the story we wrote about Wilson when he committed to UNT.

UNT lost Brandin Byrd to graduation, but has Antoinne Jimmerson back and Reggie Pegram set to return from injury. Wilson looks like a redshirt candidate.

McClain is an interesting prospect who will play safety for the Mean Green. He was a two-way player and quarterback in high school. UNT plans to move McClain to safety this fall. He is listed as a linebacker on the roster for tonight’s game that includes a list of where all the players in the game are headed to college.

McClain could have a chance to play this fall, considering UNT’s situation at safety, where the Mean Green needs some help after the graduation of Marcus Trice. Matthew Dash, a JUCO safety out of California, could end up helping fill that void and give UNT a chance to redshirt McClain. It will all depend on what happens in two-a-days that start Aug. 5. Here’s the story we wrote when McClain committed that talks a little about what his role will be at UNT.

Some follow-up tidbits, look at where UNT stands in recruiting

It’s been an eventful couple of days on the recruiting front in the land of the Mean and the Green. Considering Friday Night Lights, UNT’s annual recruiting extravaganza, is this week, I’m sure UNT is just getting started.

And yeah, I’m actually sure that is the case.

With that being the case, this seems like a good time for a couple of follow-up notes on the two prospects who committed to UNT today and a look at where things stand (who’s committed).

The two prospects who committed to UNT today are Keller Central cornerback Taylor Robinson and Southwest Mississippi JC cornerback Zavian Bingham.

Bingham is has the more interesting/complicated back story. We went over the basics when it comes to Bingham on the blog earlier today.

Bingham is a Mississippi native and had a pretty good first year at Mississippi Gulf Coast, posting 20 tackles. He ended up running into some academic problems and transferred to Southwest. He has since done a terrific job in the classroom and boosted his GPA to 2.9, which is pretty darn good anyway one looks at it for someone playing a sport on the college level.

Bingham is a burner and has the kind of physical tools that could make him a really good player, if he can put it all together. That is the reason he had offers from quite a few schools at different points over the course of the last couple of years.

Middle Tennessee came in and picked up a commitment from Bingham, but UNT and new safeties coach Perry Carter put in the work to flip him. Bingham said that he felt like UNT made his a priority.

Bingham said his options other than UNT and MTSU when he committed were Troy and Utah State.

Playing time was a big selling point for Bingham. UNT has some good corners, but James Jones will be a senior this year. Kenny Buyers and Zac Whitfield will be juniors.

As far as Robinson goes, he was about as sure a UNT lock as one can imagine. Robinson is not only a solid mid-major prospect who wanted to stay close to home, he’s also close friends with UNT freshman defensive lineman T.J. Tauaalo.

UNT worked that connection, one we talked about in our on-going UNT recruiting target series, and landed a player who had offers from Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State.

And let’s not forget that UNT picked up a commitment from Allen offensive lineman Cody Wheeler just a few days ago.

This is what UNT’s commitment list looks like now:

Player Position School last attended
Rodney Bendy WR Tyler John Tyler
Zavian Bingham CB Southwest (Miss.) CC.
Nate Brooks CB Whitehouse
Cade Erwin S Flower Mound Marcus
Sam Miller DE Canton
Ashton Preston CB Edmond (Okla.) Santa Fe
Taylor Robinson CB Keller Central
Cody Wheeler OL Allen

UNT is expected to go heavy on linemen in this class. The Mean Green lost pretty much everyone off its defensive line after last season and will lose two more in seniors Alexander Lincoln and Daryl Mason this year.

UNT will have the same issue this fall with its offensive line that will lose Mason Y’Barbo, Cyril Lemon and Antonio Johnson, not to mention Shawn McKinney, who might also start this fall. McKinney’s a pretty good player we often forget to talk about.

UNT will have a ton of key prospects in for its camp this week, including San Antonio guard Abdul Beecham, who we talked to not too long ago.

It’s been quite a run for UNT in the last few weeks. Stay tuned.

Taylor Robinson talks about decision to commit to UNT

UNT picked up a second commitment from a cornerback today when Keller Central’s Taylor Robinson elected to play for the Mean Green.

Robinson chose UNT over Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State.

We wrote about Robinson a while back in our on-going UNT recruiting target series

Robinson and UNT defensive lineman T.J. Tauaalo are close friends. Robinson described them as brothers.

Robinson talked with his parents and Tauaalo about his options and elected to commit.

“I felt like North Texas is my best option and I wanted to commit before the season,” Robinson said. “I talked to my parents and T.J. about it as well. I felt good about it.”

Robinson finished with nine interceptions last season and a first-team all-district pick in addition to being an honorable mention all-state selection.

Robinson was recruited by Perry Carter, who helped set up the reunion of the two old friends. Tauaalo posted hit picture of the two on the sidelines at Keller Central on his Twitter account today:

“It will be cool to play with T.J. again,” Robinson said. “We are really good friends.”

For more, see tomorrow’s edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle.