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  1. Reporter5 Views Quick Hits: Five observations from the football spring game Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer @ReeceWaddell15 On Saturday, April 23, the North Texas football team took the field for its annual spring game. Here are five observations from the contest. New quarterbacks show improvement Graduate quarterback Alec Morris showed his value in his first appearance at Apogee Stadium, proving he is a clear upgrade from anyone the Mean Green lined up under center in 2015. Morris made the most of his staunch 6-3, 233-pound frame and was not afraid to stand in the pocket and find the open man. His arm strength, while not elite, is good enough to get the job done. Morris was not fazed when his number was called to throw the ball downfield, and had only one hiccup on the day, an interception that came when he airmailed a pass to the opposite side of the field. Junior Quinn Shanbour also had a nice game and looked comfortable making the most of the throws in the offense’s arsenal. The highlight of his day was a 30-yard missile over the middle of the field that sailed behind the defensive back’s helmet and right into the receiver’s hands for a touchdown. Here's the link to the full write up: http://ntdaily.com/quick-hits-five-observations-from-the-football-spring-game/
  2. Head football coach Littrell hoping to turn Mean Green around Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer @ReeceWaddel15 It did not take long for Mean Green students, fans and even football players to begin drawing comparisons between fictional football coach Eric Taylor from the television series “Friday Night Lights” and new Mean Green head coach Seth Littrell. In a state where football might as well be a religion in some towns, like fictitious Dillon, Texas, Littrell and his imaginary counterpart share many of the same coaching experiences, like turning around programs some had lost hope for. Before arriving at North Texas, Littrell helped orchestrate the revival of football at schools like Indiana University and the University of North Carolina – both more known for their basketball prowess. Like Littrell, Taylor is familiar with getting programs back on track, leading his underdog team to a state championship in the series finale. And although Littrell and Taylor are similar in more ways than one, some find their physical likeness even more remarkable – except Littrell. “I don’t really look at myself that much so I don’t know,” Littrell said when asked if he has heard of the comparisons to Taylor. “I’ve heard that a bunch since I’ve been here. Hopefully he’s a really good looking fella and a good football coach, too.” Littrell’s offensive coordinator Graham Harrell on the other hand, finds their resemblance uncanny. “The other day in a staff meeting, he actually brought it up because someone asked him about it,” Harrell said. “He was like, ‘Y’all don’t see it do you?’ And everyone was just like ‘Uh, I don’t know about that coach.’” Here's the link to the rest of the write up: http://ntdaily.com/head-football-coach-littrell-hoping-to-turn-mean-green-around/
  3. Football team changing format for annual spring game this weekend Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer @ReeceWaddell15 As the month of April winds down, many college football programs across the country begin to prepare for their annual spring game – an intra-squad scrimmage that pits members of the same team against one another. In the past, North Texas has split its roster into two teams, green and white, and played the game like any regular contest by keeping score, having a clock, and even having referees throwing flags for penalties. That will not be the case in 2016. First-year head coach Seth Littrell has different plans for the Mean Green’s spring game, which will be held on Saturday, April 23 at 2 p.m. inside Apogee Stadium. Instead of the traditional format, Littrell intends on dividing his roster into first and second strings and scrimmaging for around 100 snaps. There will be no running clock, except for time-sensitive situational work. “Right now we don’t have enough depth to truly play a game,” Littrell said. “It will be a good scrimmage, a lot of live work obviously. We’re not going to thin out our team. The last thing I want to do is wear them down enough to where they get injury prone. It’s not worth it to me to have a true spring game.” With 80 players on its roster, North Texas does not have the manpower needed to fill out a green and white team. Just down the road at Southern Methodist University, the Mustangs have over 110 players on its roster for its spring game last Saturday. But Littrell is far from concerned with North Texas not playing a run-of-the-mill spring game. Rather, Littrell wants his team get beneficial practice time that will carry the Mean Green into the summer. “[The spring game] has the same value as any spring practice,” Littrell said. “I think spring games are –they’re fun for the fans to get out and kind of get to see everybody and what you’re doing. But for me, and I think for all coaches around the country, we’d rather do away from the spring game and have a spring practice.” Some UNT students are not echoing Littrell’s sentiment, though. With an almost entirely new coaching staff and many new faces, there has been an anticipation around campus to see what the new-look Mean Green has to offer. One of those students is media arts sophomore Andrew Rolf, who frequents both UNT football and basketball games. Usually donning some shade of green, Rolf is an avid athletics supporter despite the recent struggles in football and basketball. Rolf was surprised when he learned North Texas did not have the necessary depth to make up the usual green and white teams. “It’s a little embarrassing with how big our school is,” Rolf said. “I think it’s kind of ridiculous. It seems like college football tradition to have spring games.” Despite Littrell and the coaching staff planning for an unconventional scrimmage, North Texas players are anxious to get back on the field after a dismal 1-11 mark last year that tied for the worst record in school history. “I’m super stoked,” senior offensive lineman Sam Rice said. “That’s why I play the game – to hit people. We’re all good friends, and best friends hurt each other. It will be a good time.” After nearly a month of practice that included implementing a brand-new offense and getting acclimated to a new head coach, the Mean Green is excited to get back inside Apogee and play in front of fans – even if it won’t be an actual game. “It’s fun having a little grudge match at the end, because you’re a little ticked off after four weeks of hitting the same person,” Rice said. “The spring game is kind of the finale where everyone can get their desserts.” Desserts, however, may be off the table for Rice. With the new up-tempo, high-octane offense, Rice said he’s had to make a few changes to his diet this spring to accommodate the team’s new style of play. “I don’t get to be as fat, which isn’t fun,” Rice said. “But that’s alright. It’s a good time. I think we’ll gash some good defenses with [our offense].” One of the players hoping to do the gashing is junior quarterback Quinn Shanbour. For the past four weeks, Shanbour has competed alongside graduate Alec Morris and others for the starting quarterback job. Although Littrell has yet to name a de-facto starter, Shanbour said one quarterback in particular has been getting the most looks with the starters. “Alec has kind of taken the reins,” Shanbour said. “He’s been running with the ones more.” Even though Morris appears to be the favorite to win the job, he has made some mistakes along the way. As the team lined up for its end-of-practice scrimmage last week, Morris threw a pick-six on the offense’s first play, prompting Shanbour to say one side of the ball is currently ahead of the other. “I think defense is a little in front of [the offense],” Shanbour said. “It’s more instinctual, more natural to be doing downhill.” Despite not playing its annual green/white game, Littrell is still eager to coach in front of students and fans for the first time in Denton. But when it’s all said and done, Littrell is really only focused on one thing. “I’m excited for these guys to get out in front of fans. It’s an exciting time,” Littrell said. “But at the same time, we have a lot of work to do and we have to make sure we’re smart with how we do it.” Here's a link to the full write up: http://ntdaily.com/football-team-changing-format-for-annual-spring-game-this-weekend/
  4. UNT gradually increased student athletic fee and institutional support despite below-average athletic performance Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer @ReeceWaddell15 Student athletic fees at UNT have more than doubled in the last seven years, according to the NCAA Membership Financial Reporting System. In 2015, student fees and institutional support combined to equal $20,043,786. If this amount was subtracted from the athletic department’s expenses, UNT would have been just over $20 million in debt last year. Since 2008, the North Texas football team has had one winning season and has been under the direction of three different head coaches. Men’s basketball has failed to finish above .500 since hiring head coach Tony Benford in 2012 and had the third-lowest average home attendance in Conference USA in 2015. As a result of the subpar performances in the higher revenue sports, UNT has steadily raised student fees and institutional support to fund athletics. “I don’t look at [student fees] as a loss,” athletic director Rick Villarreal said. “I look at that as an investment in the university. I don’t try to justify anything. For me, it’s a program the university feels is valuable, so that’s why it has an athletics department. It’s why they have an athletic director.” The NCAA report showed UNT collected $4,641,911 in student fees in 2008 compared to $10,723,272 in 2015. In 2008, UNT received $14,081 in institutional support. That figure grew nearly 662 percent in 2015 to total $9,319,514. When tallied together, UNT’s student athletic fees and institutional support make up roughly two thirds of the athletic department’s revenue. At a Board of Regents meeting in September 2015, Villarreal asked for permission to increase the student athletic fee by $1 per semester credit hour – a motion that was approved. Villarreal said despite the recent rise, North Texas still has the lowest fees both in C-USA and across the state. “There’s a certain group that wants to take North Texas and make us somebody else,” Villarreal said. “Our own people want to make us different than everybody else. I’ve never really in my entire career been around this kind of situation where we always want to look at the negative. If the university decided tomorrow that it didn’t want an athletic program, then that would be their decision.” This issue is not only plaguing UNT, though. In a report by the Texas Tribune, it was documented that all but two public universities in Texas lost money on their athletic programs in 2015. According to the report, the only two public schools to make a profit were Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. However, this was not exactly the case. Texas Tribune staff writer and lead reporter on the aforementioned report Matthew Watkins said his publication chose to intentionally subtract student fees and institutional support from each school’s bottom line in order to paint a clearer picture of the money universities generated from things like ticket and merchandise sales. Erica Wieting | Staff Graphic Artist “It would be inaccurate to say the athletic department is in debt or failing to cover their expenses, because they do have that money,” Watkins said. “It’s just we felt that money […] there’s a difference between what we would call earned revenue and what we could call a subsidy, which is being used to basically keep the athletic department financially solvent.” In actuality, UNT made a $43,557 profit in 2015 when student fees and institutional support were accounted for. Watkins did not feel he skewed or misrepresented the data, though. Instead, he said that by introducing the figures without student fees and institutional support, he provided transparency as to what was going on within athletic programs in Texas. “I would be surprised if schools stopped doing this,” Watkins said. “People care so much in Texas about [athletics] that it’s hard to imagine this ending anytime soon.” After learning of the increases to finance the athletic department, some UNT students and alumni are questioning whether the hike in student fees is justifiable. Vlad Otvos graduated from UNT last December and was an avid supporter of North Texas athletics. He said he has attended between three and five football games per year, as well as various swimming and diving events. Additionally, he said the rate at which UNT funds athletics compared to other things on campus seems unbalanced. “You have a school of 40,000, and maybe 500 are on a sports team. That’s not a high percentage,” Otvos said. “We’re pouring all this money into 500 students. What about all these graduate students who are TAs in biology labs who aren’t getting paid enough because our money goes to sports?” Other students did not take as much of an issue with the increase in fees. Finance senior Robert Watson said he did not think UNT receiving roughly $20 million from the university in student fees and institutional support was too much money. Rather, he saw it as a necessary investment in the athletic department. “You want to be able to take pride in saying ‘I went there,’” Watson said. “We may see it now that they drove the student fees pretty high in the past five, six, seven years, but five years from now we may look back and say ‘UNT is now a University of Houston, or whatever.’ And it started because we decided we cared about being good at sports.” For Villarreal, the goal remains to improve UNT’s infrastructure and put winning teams on the court and field. But unlike others, he does not necessarily see winning as an immediate fix to the revenue problem. “When we were winning 20 games a year six years in a row in basketball, our season ticket numbers didn’t triple or quadruple or whatever,” Villarreal said. “A lot of places it would. Why does it not here? I’m not sure. It’s not because we’re not out there pursuing it or trying to make it happen.” Here's a link to the full write up: http://ntdaily.com/unt-increasing-student-athletic-fee-and-institutional-support-despite-below-average-athletic-performance/
  5. “I’m very confident in all the guys we’ve got,” junior running back Jeffrey Wilson said of North Texas’ wide receivers. “Any day I’ll put them up against any receiving corps that’s in the college league right now.” Quite the endorsement.... Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer @ReeceWaddell15 The stadium was raucous and all 52,882 fans were on their feet. Seconds remained on the clock with a chance at history on the line. In an instant, the ball was snapped and a pass was lobbed along the sideline. Caught five yards short of the goal line, wide receiver Michael Crabtree broke two tackles and scampered into the endzone to give Texas Tech University the win over No. 1 University of Texas at Austin. The quarterback who threw the game-winning pass was Graham Harrell, the current offensive coordinator at North Texas. And standing along the sidelines as running backs coach for the Red Raiders was Seth Littrell, the current head coach of the Mean Green. But there is more in common with the 2008 Texas Tech team and the 2016 North Texas team than Harrell and Littrell. One of the first programs to run an “Air Raid” offense, Littrell brings to Denton the same scheme the Red Raiders used during their 11 win season. And the Mean Green wide receivers are licking their chops. “We hit the jackpot as receivers with this offense,” junior wide receiver Turner Smiley said. “Before, we threw the ball, but nothing like this. I’m definitely excited.” Unlike the pro-style scheme ran under former head coach Dan McCarney, the spread offense is an up-tempo attack that moves the ball to as many players as possible. Typically run out of the shotgun, the “Air Raid” opens the field up for big plays and chances to score on essentially every down. For this to work, however, playmakers are needed at virtually every skill position. “Every position is big, to be honest with you,” Littrell said. “If you think about a position in this system, they’re all making plays. That’s what we pride ourselves on, spreading the ball to as many different positions as possible.” Unfortunately for Littrell and North Texas, offense was not the team’s strong suit last season. In 2015, the Mean Green ranked 117th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense, managing just 3,841 yards. Additionally, the Mean Green compiled only 19 offensive touchdowns last year, the third-worst mark in the FBS. The top team, Baylor University, had 85. To add to Littrell’s conundrum, North Texas’ receivers are relatively inexperienced. Of the 11 wide receivers on the Mean Green’s roster, only four have played a game in a North Texas uniform. Tallied together, North Texas’ receiving corps has combined for 649 yards and three receiving touchdowns. For a scheme that requires numerous threats on the outside, those statistics are not exactly ideal. “Every receiver wants the ball,” Smiley said. “And you’re going to get the ball. A lot. I definitely think we have the talent to [make it work].” Because the spread offense is predicated on throwing the ball, route running for receivers is a crucial part of making the system function. In years past, receivers at North Texas were almost equally as focused on blocking for runners as getting open downfield and hauling in passes. That mentality has changed since the Littrell arrived. “Route running is very important,” sophomore wide receiver Tee Goree said. “If you don’t get your depth on the route and you don’t run the correct steps on a route, the defensive back can cover you. You have to be very detailed with your route just to get open.” Despite Littrell’s offense being one of the most fast-paced in college football, receivers on the team say they do not find it difficult to execute. Instead, Goree attributes the scheme’s simplicity to Littrell’s coaching techniques. “In this offense, you know what you have to do,” Goree said. “Last year the offense was a bunch of difficult stuff. The coaches teach this offense so we can learn it. The offense itself isn’t simpler, but the coaches are better.” To help ease the transition of implementing a new offense, Littrell took an unorthodox approach, which included doing away with something many teams use on a daily basis. “We don’t have playbooks here,” Littrell said. “Really. We don’t use playbooks. It’s too simple. We don’t have enough [plays]. If you have those big, thick playbooks, you can’t play fast. So we don’t do them.” Even though several of North Texas’ receivers have yet to play in an FBS football game, there is no shortage of faith in their ability to engineer the “Air Raid.” With an almost entirely new coaching staff and offense in place, the Mean Green is anxious to turn things around and put points on the board after a lackluster 2015 campaign. “I’m very confident in all the guys we’ve got,” junior running back Jeffrey Wilson said of North Texas’ wide receivers. “Any day I’ll put them up against any receiving corps that’s in the college league right now.” Here's the link to the whole write-up http://ntdaily.com/north-texas-football-confident-implementing-new-offense-despite-wr-inexperience/
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