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Building continuity: Senior wideout is paving road for future Mean Green receivers

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North Texas football senior wide receiver Jaelon Darden falls in the footsteps of previous standouts at his position in recent years under head coach Seth Littrell’s offensive system. The group of household names including current Los Angeles Chargers receiver Jalen Guyton, and former all-conference receivers Mike Lawrence and Rico Bussey Jr.

During practices and games, Darden has become a player-coach-like figure among his fellow receivers. He uses the lessons he learned from the players who came before him to teach the younger players in the respective position group.

“I took the coaching throughout my career very seriously and applied it to being like a player-coach,” Darden said. “Having guys like [Bussey Jr., Guyton and Lawrence] give me tips on how to get open and soaking in their critiques is something I still use and teach everyone else. At the end of the day, I take what those guys taught me and I apply it when I’m on the field because I want to be great too.”

In North Texas’ 49-17 loss to UTSA, Darden tied a school record for all-time receiving touchdowns with 31, originally set by Ron Shanklin (1967-1969). As of Week 14, Darden tied for first place in Division I FBS for receiving touchdowns with 12, tied for seventh in receptions at 58 and ninth in receiving yards at 882.

Two more games are on the schedule and Darden has the opportunity to surpass Shanklin as the all-time leader for touchdowns in a career, and the single-season record of 13 touchdown receptions.

“There are very few guys who work the way [Darden] does or show the same drive and determination,” Littrell said. “He’s meant a lot to our program because of the way he goes out and competes every single week. He never wants to come out of the game and gives it his all.”

Darden’s path to North Texas playing college football took a decision between three different teams when committing out of high school. He originally committed to McNeese State and later chose UNLV as a senior. Darden decommitted from the Rebels and received a phone call from Littrell to join North Texas, where he eventually signed.

Littrell and co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord are two people Darden says he credits for his time at North Texas. As a high school senior in 2016, Darden had to sit a portion of his season out as a new student moving from Aldine Eisenhower High School to John Reagan Heights High School.

“I’m always going to be grateful for the opportunity [Littrell and Mainord] gave me. My situation in finding a college to go to out of high school was very difficult. They were the ones who gave me an opportunity when nobody else did and I’m thankful for that.”

Mainord has served under Littrell since 2016 as a receivers coach and was promoted to the co-offensive coordinator last offseason. Since coaching Darden as a freshman in 2017, he says coaching the senior wide-out is one of the best experiences in his coaching career.

“It’s been one of the best experiences in my coaching career being able to work with [Darden] and see him really become who he was supposed to be,” Mainord said. “Since I’ve known him I’ve seen a young man accomplish his goals but at the same time having a desire to coach other teammates, it’s something you hardly ever witness at this level. Where he’s grown the most since he’s been here is knowing different defensive schemes, recognizing coverages and ability to get free in space.”

Darden is likely playing his final game at Apogee Stadium Thursday evening against Louisiana Tech. Looking back throughout his time with the Mean Green, his goal was to be part of a receiving core with a hard work ethic.

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“I see the younger [receivers] improve each day and they always apply what needs to be fixed,” Darden said. “Even when I’m gone I’ll still be giving them a call looking at their film and critiquing them on their game. I’m very proud of that group for how hard they work and we pride ourselves on being productively consistent.”

Featured Image: Senior wide receiver Jaleon Darden and head coach Seth Littrell hug before home game against Rice on Nov. 21, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas

Article Originally Published by Preston Rios on North Texas Daily

Source: North Texas Daily

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