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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Coaches Caravan looks forward after historic year of North Texas sports

Article Originally Published by John Fields on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by John Fields on North Texas Daily

With the 2020-21 sports seasons complete, North Texas Athletics held a virtual “Coaches Caravan” to reflect on history made and look toward the future.

Head coaches and players from football, and the men’s and women’s basketball teams reflected on their respective seasons and recent changes before the event was capped off by Director of Athletics Wren Baker.

Among his comments, Baker notably announced plans to return to full capacity at Apogee Stadium for fall football games.

“We’re planning on 100 percent, we’re planning on the full gameday experience,” Baker said. “I think we’ll obviously watch the trend lines and make sure things are headed to a good place, but if you look at the cases in Texas, you look at the cases nationally, you look at vaccination rates increasing, I feel really good that we’re going to have the full gameday experience and I can’t wait for it.”

As far as vaccination rates are concerned, 57.45 percent of Texans over 12 have received at least one dose and 49.29 percent are fully vaccinated as of June 29, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In Denton County specifically, 60.08 percent of residents over 12 have received at least one dose and 52.68 percent are fully vaccinated as of June 29, also according to the DSHS.

To open the Caravan, men’s basketball head coach Grant McCasland reflected on winning a Conference USA title and tallying the team’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. He also spoke about the tragic loss of Nelson Haggerty (Director of Basketball Strategy and Operations) in an April car accident.

“Not a day goes by that we don’t remember a great championship, but honestly the heart behind it is who Coach Hagg was every day,” McCasland said. “That is part of our journey moving forward and who we want to be is to honor him in what we do and how we do it.”

McCasland was joined by senior forward Thomas Bell, who spoke about his growth since he has been at North Texas and his motivation to return for a fifth season.

“I feel like it’s a good spot for me,” Bell said. “I’ve got a good coaching staff. They believe in me, trust in me and it’s a good place for me to grow. I’ve grown into a better person and a better player. I just wanted to take the challenge to be a leader.”

Joined by redshirt-junior guard Quincy Noble as the event’s second pairing, women’s basketball head coach Jalie Mitchell spoke about the team’s historic conference slate and hiring new assistant coach Ciara Carl. With six newcomers joining the team for next season, Mitchell said returners like Noble have been key in the adjustment process.

“You can see in them, even this summer, our returners have been so awesome,” Mitchell said. “They have made the newbies buy in a lot faster and understand a lot quicker how they can help take us to a new level. I’m happy for where we are but I’m also excited about where we’re going.”

For the Caravan’s final pairing, head football coach Seth Littrell and junior linebacker KD Davis discussed the upcoming season on both sides of the ball. In addressing the quarterback position, Littrell notably said the job is redshirt-sophomore Austin Aune’s to win after his performance so far this offseason. Aune looks to be on top in a quarterback room that includes North Carolina transfer Jace Ruder and freshman Bryce Drummond.

After touching on the quarterback situation, Littrell said new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett — Littrell’s third defensive coordinator in the last three years —  has done “an unbelievable job” since joining the team.

“I think we look as good defensively as we have in the last three years,” Littrell said. “I think our players are understanding it, they are really coming together. I’m really excited about our defense this fall. I can’t wait to watch them go out and compete and I know we are going to win games because of our defense.”

Defense is a concern for the football team this season after it allowed 42.8 points and 522.1 yards per game last season, both of which were the worst marks in C-USA.

“Just everybody coming in and locking into the plan Coach Bennett has,” Davis said. “Everybody coming into practice getting one percent better every day, just going out there and giving it your all and playing as a team, not just being selfish.”

As change looms on the horizon for college sports after a Supreme Court loss and name, image and likeness legislation being recommended, Baker said the athletics department is looking to continue serving its student-athletes.

“We’re going to continue to stay focused on our student-athlete development from the time they get here,” Baker said. “There is a new wrinkle to that with name, image and likeness passing and we’re going to educate and equip our student-athletes to be prepared for that environment.”

Source: North Texas Daily

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