East Texas College Football Camp Series: North Texas Event Gets Strong Reviews
TYLER -- East Texas' most serious football scholarship opportunity hunters seemed to have a little drag in their step following back-to-back workouts with Texas Tech and TCU as they prepped for North Texas' satellite camp Thursday at Tyler Lee.
The players had stretched themselves at times in drills with the Big 12 Conference schools and, all the while, the sun baked them after months of cooler weather.
If fifth-year Mean Green head coach Dan McCarney was going to consistently draw the best out of the guys, he had his work cut out for him.
North Texas' impossibly charismatic leader started with a message and then delivered on-field with a camp that drew the best overall reviews of the three satellite camps in the region this week.
"We all want to be a part of success," he said. "We all want to win. We're going to be at SMU, at Iowa and at Tennessee this year along with a much-improved Conference USA. We're 10-2 in our last 12 bowl games as a conference. Future games against Arkansas, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, Florida.
"Some great challenges out there. But it's an opportunity to coach and play against the best. And that's why I love North Texas."
With imposing schedules in front of him, McCarney has stockpiled East Texas players.
The challenge for him, as it is for all other non-power five conference coaches, is convincing targets that it's as comfortable in Denton.
North Texas differentiated itself for the day with a camp that emphasized playmaking ability in favor of testing numbers.
It only recorded 40-yard dash times. To make that more interesting, the top four runners were invited back to go head-to-head for the camp's top time.
There was also as much teaching as evaluating.
"I was really impressed with their staff," Bishop Gorman junior receiver Judah Bell said. "I had been to a couple of the camps earlier in the week. Some of the guys come out with high energy levels and wanting to get the players going. Some of the guys come out just because it's a thing to do. These guys were really engaged with us and were really engaged with trying to help us get better. They clearly weren't out here just to be out here."
Bell is not the first East Texan to feel more at home with the Mean Green. The program took five area players in the 2014 class and three more in February.
There will be 12 local high school players on the 2015 roster in total. Every single one of them will have eligibility remaining the following season for a signature game against Florida in The Swamp.
"Here's what they are," McCarney said, "I've studied this area from the time I took the job at North Texas. Toughness, competitiveness, loyal, hard-nosed. You walk down a dark alley, you take a bunch of guys from East Texas with you. You talk about people that will compete their butts off and fight you all day. That's what you see in East Texas.
"That's why we've got around a dozen already and why we're coming back strong to recruit some more in this area."
North Texas emerged from long-term obscurity in the early 2000s.
Financial problems in the late 1970s forced the program from what is now the FBS down to the FCS level. It did not come back to the highest classification of competition until 1995.
The team reached a bowl game in 2001 for the first time in 42 years and subsequently reached three more in consecutive seasons. However, through two coaching changes, the Mean Green dropped back.
McCarney, who led Iowa State from 1995 to 2006, arrived on scene in 2011 after a stint as a defensive line coach and associate head coach at Florida.
North Texas reached the Heart of Dallas Bowl with an 8-4 regular season record in 2013 and crunched UNLV to conclude the year.
The team fell to 4-8 last season -- all home wins -- after suffering serious losses to graduation. Some of which are now part of the coaching staff as graduate assistants.
"We think we have something pretty special at North Texas," McCarney said. "Third largest school in the State of Texas behind Texas and Texas A&M. We've got diversity, we've got options, we've got opportunities, great majors. It's a great place academically.
"Now we've got this football thing cranked up. It's a phenomenal place. When we go from 1-16 at home when I first took the job to 16-7 at home, we're giving our fans a reason to come to Apogee Stadium."
West Makes An Impression
Jeremy West won last month's ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine's Offensive Line Most Valuable Player award and has enjoyed solid outings throughout the camp circuit.
With offers in hand from Alcorn State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Stephen F. Austin, the North Texas event might have been the Chapel Hill senior's FBS level breakthrough with an in-state school.
"North Texas is fairly new to me, but from what I'm understanding I think they're starting to get interested in me," West said. "We'll see how it goes. It was a big family environment. I really liked the O-line coach (Mike Simmonds). He moved me around and asked me where I was most comfortable. I told him it didn't matter, so I hopped around at center and at guard."
The Mean Green's spin on the camp also got the lineman's attention.
"The way McCarney was talking to me, it felt like a second father," West said. "The other coaches talked to me. I really took it all in and took it to the heart. Everything they said. It really meant a lot that they took the time to coach like that. Most camps don't do it like that. It was pretty special."
But the runway to make a larger impression on West (6-2, 297) could be short.
"Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are really interested and we've talked heavily for some time now," West said. "We'll see how it goes."
Washington Stands Out On D-Line
It didn't come as much of a surprise the overall ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine's Defensive Most Valuable Player drew attention from the Mean Green.
Marshall senior defensive tackle Antonio Washington (6-0, 260) thought his day at Tyler Lee went very well.
"I was pretty hyped up about coming up here," Washington said. "I got a call from Coach Mike Simmonds and he acted like he was real interested in me. He told me to check out the camp so I came and checked out the camp. It was a really good day."
The defensive lineman provided another good review.
"This one was like at the top of the list," Washington said. "Like the head coach said, all the other camps we've been working at have a lot of testing. This day, we only did 40s and then we got to show what we've got.
"I liked the head coach. He was real. He was upfront and when he talked to you, you can feel the vibe. You can feel his passion for the game. I think he's got a pretty good coaching staff considering his track record and the coaching they put in today."
JT Quarterback Makes The Rounds
Bryson Smith has some enormous shoes to fill as the successor to Texas A&M-Commerce quarterback signee Geovari McCollister, but he is expected to help soften the blow of losing a Class 5A Division I state semifinalist signal caller right out of the box.
Camps have restricted the junior's ability to show his full range. In the non-contact environments, he can't show much of his elite speed and agility for the position.
"I just try to be coachable," Smith said. "In my mind, I know what I can do. I'm just working on throwing the ball more. At the end of the day, that's what quarterbacks are supposed to do. My arm is getting better. It's strong, but it can always improve. I'm using the camps to develop my craft and reading defenses. Everything a quarterback does, that's what I'm working on this summer."
Smith (5-10, 159) ran a laser-timed 4.52 40-yard dash at the ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine. He was one of the four players to contest for the top time at North Texas' camp.
Chapel Hill senior receiver and defensive back Kenyotta Henderson finished first in the final run.
"They're a firey staff," Smith said. "That was fun. And they seemed to care about you and brought out the best in you. We got a lot more reps and it was more of a learning experience with a lot of instruction. I learned a little more about dropping back and my release points. It was a good learning experience."
Bell Makes A Friend
Bishop Gorman junior receiver Judah Bell used North Texas receivers coaching assistant Bradley Haynes as a sounding board.
Bell (6-4, 184) caught for 1,048 yards in the Crusaders' run to the TAPPS Division II state semifinals and hopes for more this season as the leading returner.
"I was working a lot with Mr. Haynes," Bell said. "He said he'd be in touch on Twitter. He just said I have some little things to touch up, but that it just comes with practice. I liked the energy that all the players and coaches brought throughout the camp. It wasn't just a go through the motions type of camp.
"There was a lot of energy and a lot of competition. It was fast-paced and uptempo. I liked it a lot."