A lot has changed since North Texas wrapped up spring practice. Players have come and gone. The weather certainly has heated up.
When it comes to the race to start at quarterback, though, at least one thing has remained the same.
Austin Aune was UNT’s starter at the end of last season and spring practice. He’s remained with the Mean Green’s first team in the early stages of fall drills as well.
The former Argyle standout worked with the first team when workouts began on Friday. He’s looking to hang on to the job as the days dwindle before the Mean Green open the season on Aug. 27 at UTEP.
“We will handle the quarterbacks like any other position,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said late last week. “They will go out there and compete. Austin has been the starter and has been going out there with the ones. You split your reps accordingly. The more you practice, the more it cuts down like any other position.”
The dynamic of the race changed in the offseason when Grant Gunnell transferred in from Memphis. Gunnell began his career at Arizona and is the type of high-end player who could challenge Aune for playing time.
The question will be if he can get up to speed in time.
“We will see with Gunnell,” Littrell said. “Everyone adjusts differently. He has been here all summer, has put in a lot of work in the film room and understands what we are trying to get accomplished. Now it’s about getting out there and getting reps.”
Aune has gotten plenty of reps over the last few years and is coming off the best season of his career. He threw for 1,991 yards and nine touchdowns last season after taking over as UNT’s starter in the fifth week of the season.
Aune guided UNT on a five-game winning streak to cap the regular season. That run helped the Mean Green recover from a 1-6 start to become bowl eligible.
UNT lost to Miami (Ohio) in the Frisco Football Classic, the Mean Green’s fifth bowl game in six seasons.
Littrell has said he’ll never pass on the chance to add a talented quarterback. They’re just too hard to find.
UNT followed that philosophy when it added Gunnell. He’ll have a chance to continue showing what he can offer as practice continues this week.
Gunnell has a whole lot of ground to make up on Aune, who showed growth throughout spring practice and the offseason.
“Starting spring practice was big for me,” Aune said following UNT’s spring showcase, a workout that took the place of a traditional spring game. “I stayed to play football. I still have a fire for it and love the game. I am happy I came back and finished the spring well to give me momentum going into the fall.”
That momentum carried over to the first few workouts of the spring.
UNT adjusting well to heat
UNT has been forced to deal with temperatures that soared toward the 100-degree mark on in the first few days of fall practice.
Littrell and his players have been happy with the way they dealt with those challenges.
“We have been out here all summer,” UNT safety Sean-Thomas Faulkner said. “It was 100 degrees the past two months. When we go to El Paso, it will be 100, even at 8 at night. It’s something we have been getting used to and prepared for. The coaches have done a great job of acclimating us and pushing us without pushing us to the point where we could be injured.”
Offensive lineman Manase Mose credited the time UNT’s players spent running after practice and the effort they put in during workouts with helping them be ready for the heat.
UNT is balancing getting time under the sun outside with spending time in the Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility. The venue is significantly cooler than the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility Fields that are just a few feet away.
“They have been working out in the heat all summer long,” Littrell said. “They are more used to it than we are as coaches. We are going to have a hot game on Aug. 27. You have to acclimate yourself and prepare for it, but we are also fortunate enough to have an indoor facility where we can take some pressure off them.”