Thursday night notes, tidbits

We have gotten to the point in Dan McCarney’s tenure where some of the landmarks of the calendar year have become familiar. Today was one of those days.

It was Champions Day at UNT.

Every year McCarney brings in a high-profile speaker to talk to his players in the days leading up to the season-opener. This year’s guest was former Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace.

Wallace was one of the great players during McCarney’s time with the Cyclones.

And in other news, the UNT board of regents will consider the school’s proposal to increase its student athletic fee $1 per credit hour tomorrow.

A couple of quick points here:

1. If you read the fine print in the board briefing (page 571) or the original legislation — and kudos to you that did — “the fee may be increased by up to 10% of the amount of the fee last approved by a student vote.”

UNT is looking at pushing the fee up 10 percent, and that’s all it can do without student approval.

2. The athletic department has increased its revenue by $4 million since the original fee went into place four years ago, according to the proposal.

3. Upping the fee would “generate approximately $400,000 in additional revenue” and will be used to cover the cost of operating UNT’s program. Once the increase is in place, it would “replace funding historically provided through the Student Service Fee.”

The UNT athletic department has dipped into that fee in the past, but would be more self-sustaining with the extra funds in place.

Whitfield in process of returning as grad student

North Texas cornerback Zac Whitfield, right, is trying to enroll at the school as a graduate student and return for one final year with the Mean Green.  (DRC file  photo)

North Texas cornerback Zac Whitfield, right, is trying to enroll at the school as a graduate student and return for one final year with the Mean Green. (DRC file photo)

UNT defensive back Zac Whitfield is in the process of trying to enroll as a graduate student and rejoin the Mean Green football program, a school spokesman confirmed Thursday.

Whitfield, who experienced an up-and-down career with the Mean Green, graduated after last season. He has one season of eligibility remaining.

He finished with 18 tackles last season and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown in a win over Nicholls State. He served as a backup behind Kenny Buyers and James Jones throughout the year.

Whitfield played a larger role in the Mean Green’s bowl season in 2013, when he intercepted three passes and started the first two games of the year.

The former Sherman standout’s career appeared as if it would finish on a down note last season in a loss to Texas-San Antonio, UNT’s final game of the year.

UNT was about to have one last possession after coming up with a defensive stand with about two minutes remaining down 34-27. UNT’s players all ran away from a shanked punt that hit down around the 50-yard line except for Whitfield, who tried to scoop the ball up and run with it.

Whitfield fumbled the ball before UTSA’s Marcellus Mack fell on it. UTSA took over and ran out the clock.

“It was a crazy way for it to end. I don’t blame him,” former UNT linebacker Derek Akunne said of Whitfield at the time. “He was trying to make a play and help us out. If he had picked it up and scored, he would have been the hero.”

Whitfield is looking for a chance to make up for that mistake. If he does return, he will join what is a crowded cornerback depth chart late.

Kenny Buyers is entrenched as a starter on one side, while veterans Chad Davis and Jamal Marshall are fighting for playing time on the opposite side. UNT head coach Dan McCarney also said this week that he has been impressed with the performance of freshmen cornerbacks Ashton Preston and Nate Brooks.

Whitfield would also be pretty far behind at this point.

That might not matter to Whitfield, who could provide UNT depth and contribute on special teams while trying to end his career on a high note.

Regents to hear athletics proposals

The North Texas board of regents will hear a series of proposals over the next two days, including one to upgrade the Super Pit. (DRC file photo)

The North Texas board of regents will hear a series of proposals over the next two days, including one to upgrade the Super Pit. (DRC file photo)

We mentioned a while back that the UNT board of regents would hear a series of proposals that could have a dramatic impact on the future of the school’s athletics program.

Those meetings are taking place as we speak.

Among the proposals on the agenda are …

– Increasing the athletic fee UNT students pay by $1 a semester credit hour, a move that would pump some much-needed money into the school’s athletics program.

– Spent $400,000 on the initial design and engineering work on a new track facility that would allow UNT to move the track team out of Fouts Field. The new venue would sit on the opposite side of the highway near the Mean Green Athletic Center and the Waranch Tennis Center. With the track team out of Fouts, the university would be able to tear the rest of it down and use that space for other purposes.

– UNT’s regents are also set to consider spending $5.5 million on renovating the UNT Coliseum. The university-owned venue that is also known as the Super Pit is home to the UNT men’s and women’s basketball programs. The money would be used to upgrade lighting in the facility and renovate the concourses.

By the time proposals like this are brought before the school’s regents it usually pretty much a done deal.

We should know more in the next day or so.

If they are all approved, it would be a pretty positive turn of evens for UNT athletics in general.

Football magazine comes out tomorrow

Mag cover

Tomorrow is the day.

After months of work, more than a dozen photo shoots, hours of writing and editing and a lot of sleepless nights, the Denton Record-Chronicle’s 2015 football magazine will be in tomorrow’s paper.

This year’s edition is 108 pages of all local content, about a third of it covering UNT’s future and its past.

It’s the best product we put out all year.

This theme of this year’s edition is the long line of great quarterbacks in Denton history. UNT has featured several, including Steve Ramsey back in the 1960s. We talked to his daughters and his former teammates for a retrospective story on one of the great players in UNT history who passed away several years ago.

We also look at UNT current situation at quarterback and ask some of the recent greats, including Scott Hall and Derek Thompson, about how they developed in their careers.

There are a host of other features in this year’s edition that are UNT related as well. We look at Carlos Harris and his rise to put himself in position to finish his career as one of the leading receivers in UNT history and also have  a stories on Chris Cosh, Kaydon Kirby and a host of other Mean Green players and coaches.

The center section photo spread looks back at some of the great quarterbacks in UNT/Denton history.

For those of you who are also into the local high school football scene, we cover that as well.

The idea for this year’s theme stems from Guyer quarterback Shawn Robinson, the top dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2017 who committed to TCU over the summer. He is just the latest in the local high school pipeline that has also produced Jerrod Heard, James Battle, Scotty Young and J.W. Walsh, to name a few.

It’s a bargain for the $1 newsstand price, if you are not already a subscriber.

Be sure to pick up a copy. The paper sells pretty quickly tomorrow.

UNT cost of attendance scholarship update

Villarreal

Villarreal

One of the big topics of conversation in college athletics over the last few days has been the implementation of full-cost-of-attendance scholarships. Information about where schools have set their figures has trickled out over the last several weeks.

UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal took some time to run through where UNT stands this week:

First off, UNT has not set its figure yet for stipends associated with full cost-of-attendance scholarships. UNT officials are meeting in the next few days to determine where its figures will fall.

The added money athletes receive will not be distributed until the end of September.

There is a complex set of calculations involved in determining the final figure. UNT wants to be sure that it has accurately set where its scholarship number will fall before distributing the funds to its athletes.

CBS came out with a database of cost-of-attendance figures a few days ago. It’s a useful tool, but here’s a key point. If you read the fine print, the study lists figures that are “the highest average additional dollar amount that a school’s athletes could receive in 2015-16 due to the NCAA’s new COA definition.”

That does not necessarily mean that figure is what schools that have yet to announce their cost-of-attendance stipends are paying.  It also does not mean that is what each individual athlete will receive. There are a host of variables, including whether or not the athlete in question is receiving a full scholarship or a partial scholarship in an equivalency sport. Football and basketball players all receive full scholarships. Women’s soccer, softball and track and field are all equivalency sports where athletes receive partial scholarships.

One of UNT’s players talked about receiving extra money in his scholarship check a few days ago on Twitter. The assumption at the time was it was the additional money athletes will receive as part of their new scholarships.

That wasn’t the case. He moved off campus, thus his scholarship figure changed.

UNT officials expect to release the school’s exact figure when it is determined in the next few days.

How that money is distributed will vary, just like the amount athletes will receive will vary from sport to sport. UNT’s intention is for the money to help athletes manage their expenses throughout the school year.

We should find out more once UNT sets its figure.

 

Tuesday practice tidbits

McCarney

McCarney

UNT went through what Dan McCarney described as a particularly productive Tuesday workout after taking the day off Monday.

“That was about as spirited and competitive a practice we have had since we started,” McCarney said. “It was fun to watch and coach in that environment. Our practice environment is different from a lot of them. It’s really physical, tough, hard and demanding. Everyone wants that, but not everyone gets that. We did today.”

McCarney’s comments were just one of the interesting tidbits that came out of practice interviews today.

I get into what UNT expects from the tight end position in tomorrow’s paper. The obvious question after last season was why not throw it to Marcus Smith more considering he scored on six of his 15 catches on the year?

UNT will and is also looking to get a tight end group McCarney really likes more involved.

And in other news …

– UNT is still shifting its offensive linemen around a bit to see what its best combination of five will be. Chris Miles is seeing time at both tackle and guard. The assumption heading into fall was that he was a lock to start at tackle.

– JUCO transfer Garrett Gunter, who McCarney gave a scholarship to this week, is seeing time at all three offensive line positions.

– McCarney doesn’t talk about injuries unless they are season-ending. I checked in just to see if anyone is out since we hadn’t heard anything after a series of what we are told are highly physical workouts. No one has sustained an injury that is going to keep them out for the year thus far, which is good news.

A couple of quick football notes

North Texas will had another game picked up for television today, when Conference USA announced the UNT-Southern Miss game will be aired. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas will had another game picked up for television today, when Conference USA announced the UNT-Southern Miss game will be aired. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT’s coaches and players will be available after practice this afternoon, but until then a couple of quick notes:

First off, UNT announced today that its game against Southern Miss at 6 p.m. on Oct. 3 will be shown on Fox College Sports.

And in other news, SMU wide receiver James Proche will not be eligible this year. He didn’t receive approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Proche was a potential impact player for the Mustangs.

UNT offered Proche when he was a senior at DeSoto. 

It is finished (the football magazine), now life resumes

I sent the last page of our annual football preview magazine this afternoon — Page 108, for the record.

So, now we resume life.

And sleep.

But fore we get to all that, I wanted to get back to the blog.

We have gone pretty close to MIA the last few weeks while finishing up the big project of the year. It comes out Thursday.

There have been a few key items of note to come down the last few days, starting with the fact that the UNT women’s soccer team swept two matches in a trip out West. The Mean Green beat UNLV and Southern Utah.

UNT is off to its typically solid start.

The UNT volleyball team starts its season later this week. Check back for a preview.

And be sure to pick up the paper on Thursday to get a copy of this year’s magazine.

The Sunday leftovers: Smatresk on the importance of revenue sports

North Texas president  Neal Smatresk speaks to a gathering of students on campus. Smatresk  said recently that he believes success in major sports will be a key element in helping raise the profile of the university.  (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas president Neal Smatresk speaks to a gathering of students on campus. Smatresk said recently that he believes success in major sports will be a key element in helping raise the profile of the university. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Jenna Duncan, a writer here at the DRC who covers North Texas from the university side, wrote a great piece of Neal Smatresk for today’s paper.

UNT’s president talks about what’s ahead for the school and what has happened since he was hired back in 2013.

There is always material that doesn’t make the story that is of interest. And that brings us to Smatresk’s take on athletics and their importance to UNT’s efforts to become a Tier One institution.

“If we’re going to compete as a Tier One institution, our athletics teams need to compete as a Tier One institution as well,” Smatresk said. “So we need to expect to fund athletics in a way that’s consistent with success, and we need that success in turn to yield revenue streams that can support and sustain.

“We need teams that get national attention, because like it or not, one of the biggest ways schools get recognized is the quality of their teams – primarily football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. I’m not saying the other sports aren’t important, but those core sports are what advance your brand … That’s going to have to be another piece of how we get to Tier One, getting recognized however we can at a national level.”

Smatresk can often be found at UNT games and has a background at schools with solid athletic programs. He was the president at UNLV, which has a long basketball tradition.

UNT has enjoyed some success in its recent past in terms of revenue sports. Dan McCarney led UNT to a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of the 2013 season. That game took place when Smatresk was in the process of leaving UNLV for UNT.

Look a little farther back and UNT had a run of six straight winning seasons in men’s basketball, including five 20-win campaigns, beginning in the 2006-07 campaign. Johnny Jones led UNT on that run and took the Mean Green to two NCAA tournaments before landing his dream job at LSU.

It’s been tough for UNT to reach that level of success lately.

UNT has won winning season in its last nine in the three revenue sports — football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. That was the Mean Green’s 2013 season in football, when UNT went 9-4 under Dan McCarney.

That season is the UNT football program’s only winning campaign in the last decade.

UNT finished .500 in men’s basketball in the 2013-14 season under Tony Benford, but has yet to post a winning season in three campaigns since Jones left for LSU.

The women’s basketball program’s struggles have been even more pronounced. UNT has posted nine straight losing seasons under four coaches. The hope is UNT Hall of Fame player Jalie Mitchell can turn the Mean Green around in the next few years. She took over the program in the offseason.

Smatresk said he sees UNT’s revenue sports as a key component of the university’s efforts to advance as an institution. UNT win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl was huge in that regard.

It will be interesting to see if UNT’s major sports can get back to that level of success in the next few years.

Smatresk indicated that he will be watching closely to see how they fare.

UNT scrimmage notes — Defense improving, QB pecking order remains unchanged

UNT’s Saturday morning scrimmage was closed to fans and media members, but coach Dan McCarney and players were available afterward. Here are a couple of tidbits of note:

– UNT got 110 plays in with no major injuries.

– UNT’s defense had a good day. McCarney said the Mean Green did a better job of tackling and improved in terms of handling assignments.

– I will go into this more in the paper tomorrow, but UNT’s defensive line continues to progress and improve in terms of depth. We have mentioned Roderick Young and how he has impressed his coaches and teammates in camp. McCarney reiterated that Young is playing well and will see time this year.

– I mentioned that time is running out in terms of UNT seeing any movement on the quarterback depth chart. McCarney said that Andrew McNulty came out of the scrimmage still solidly at No. 1 after a good performance. Josh Greer is still sitting second. It’s getting to the point where I don’t think that is going to change.

– Former UNT players Marcus Trice and Cooper Jones were at practice today.