On Monday, March 1, North Texas kicked off its spring football practice following a busy offseason which resulted in a loss of 15 players not returning from last season, including eight players entering the transfer portal. The coaching staff also has a different look as five news coaches join head coach Seth Littrell’s staff with the hiring of long-time defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.
North Texas in its second straight season fell below .500 with a 4-6 overall record and a 3-4 Conference USA record. Offensively the Mean Green stood at the top in all major categories including total offense (513.2 yards per game), scoring offense (34.4 points per game), rushing offense (230.2 yards per game) and passing offense (283 yards per game).
Defensively the Mean Green ranked last in the four major defensive categories in total defense allowing (522.1 yards per game), scoring defense (42.8 points per game), rushing defense (269.2 yards per game) and passing defense (252.9 yards per game).
Following day one of practice, Littrell credited the energy of the players and the performance of the defense to getting spring football started on the right foot.
“The energy and effort was there for everyone today all around,” Littrell said. “I was really excited to see the defense do a lot better on day one than I thought. Those guys on defense communicated well, the coaches got them in position the right way. It was fun to be back on the field with everyone and day one was good.”
Littrell confirmed multiple defensive players missed the first two weeks including senior All C-USA defensive tackle Dion Novil and freshman cornerback Upton Stout. Novil is expected to miss all of spring football to recover from injuries and Stout is likely to return soon.
Bennett became the new defensive coordinator for the Mean Green Jan. 22 with a resume as a defensive coordinator at nine power five schools with 24 years of experience.
Two additional assistants joined the defensive coaching staff who have experience coaching with Bennett include linebackers coach Jim Gush and cornerbacks coach Jared Holly.
“[Bennett] is a good coach and his experience with defensive game-planning he expects a lot out of us,” Junior linebacker KD Davis said. “His intensity is high and he expects us to do our work by getting extra film sessions in and continually progressing as a defense.”
The offense lost key players from the 2020 season in former All-American receiver Jaelon Darden to the NFL draft. North Texas lost former starting quarterback Jason Bean, running back Tre Siggers, wide receiver Austin Ogunmakin to the transfer portal. Siggers signed with cross-town rival Southern Methodist University, Bean and Ogunmakin are in the transfer portal.
In his second season with North Texas, Mike Bloesch was promoted as the full-time offensive coordinator and offensive play-caller after serving as co-offensive coordinator with receivers coach Tommy Mainord in the 2020 season.
“It’s a good opportunity for the offense this season to have [Bloesch] as the offensive coordinator,” Senior running back DeAndre Torrey said. “He draws up a lot of good offensive concepts and with his experience as an offensive line coach we know he likes to use the running game.”
Torrey returns to North Texas for his fourth season and started as the full-time running back in 2018 and 2020. Senior tight end Jason Pirtle is an additional senior who utilized his eligibility to return for the 2021 season.
Attempting to compete at the top of C-USA like the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Torrey says the returning seniors renewed their eligibility to fill in as new leaders to the underclassmen.
“We have a lot of guys on the team with tons of experience and it excels us in what we’re trying to accomplish,” Torrey said. “There are guys who have seen the best and the worst, and the underclassmen need someone who’s been through it. A lot of new guys have bought into the culture and they know their job requires them to step up.”
As spring football progresses, multiple position groups on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball will compete for starting jobs. The team signed the No. 2 overall class in C-USA with 18 3-star signees.
The Mean Green also picked up four transfers in former quarterback Jace Ruder from the University of North Carolina, former Rice University cornerback TyRae Thornton, former Texas Tech cornerback John Davis, former Louisiana Monroe cornerback Logan Wilson.
As spring football progresses, Littrell says the growth of the coaching staff will play a role in developing the team as the new coaches see the same vision as the tenured coaches.
“Offensively we have kept continuity among our coaches and defensively the coaches we brought in are great guys,” Littrell said. “[Bennett] has worked with a lot of them and everyone has the same philosophies of coaching. There’s no doubt we are all pulling the rope in the same direction. Being able to sit in those defensive rooms and hear them speak and interact has been fun for me.”
Featured Image: Head Coach Grant McCasland calls a timeout against the University of Alabama-Birmingham on March 6, 2021. Image by Zachary Thomas