North Texas tackled a host of new challenges on the opening day of fall practice Friday, including one linebacker KD Davis hadn’t given a whole lot of thought before — breathing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced UNT to make a host of adjustments, including wearing face shields and masks in addition to helmets.
“It’s pretty hard to breathe when you are wearing a helmet and a visor with a mask on underneath,” Davis said. “But if we want to play this season, that is what we are going to have to do. We might as well get comfortable with it.”
Davis and UNT’s players said they are ready to tackle that challenge as they prepare for their season opener at home against Houston Baptist on Sept. 5.
UNT coach Seth Littrell said he is happy with where the Mean Green are as they transition from their summer program to fall workouts with his roster exactly where he hoped it would be.
Littrell said UNT has not had any players opt out of the season. The Mean Green also came through their latest round of COVID-19 testing without any positive results among players and coaches.
UNT is on solid ground as it looks to bounce back from a 4-8 finish last season as a result.
“It was great to get everybody back out there running around and competing,” Littrell said. “It was a lot of fun. There was a lot of energy.”
UNT has emphasized safety measures throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. That didn’t change on the opening day of fall drills.
“We are cautious with face masks and social distancing,” wide receiver Jaelon Darden said. “That’s the only difference. Other than that, the intensity is high. Our goal is to play a season. If we want to play, we have to follow the rules. It’s not hard at all.”
Darden isn’t the only player who feels that way. Littrell said his players have accepted the changes the program is making to insure they stay healthy.
“I haven’t heard any complaining about protocols,” Littrell said. “The guys are excited to get back out on the field together. When it is taken away, you realize you can’t take things for granted.”
UNT has several issues to address as it looks forward to its season-opener.
The Mean Green lost record-setting quarterback Mason Fine to graduation and gained a new defensive coordinator in Clint Bowen.
Bowen is installing a new scheme. UNT’s players had a chance to continue adapting to that system with the opening of fall drills.
“We went out and executed pretty well,” Davis said. It was our ninth day in the new defense. The intensity was high. We were out there talking and communicating.”
UNT’s quarterbacks competition is one that will unfold over the course of several weeks. Austin Aune and Jason Bean enter fall camp as the leading contenders to take over for Fine, who has joined the staff at Pawhuska back in his home state, according to the Daily Oklahoman.
UNT lost a whole lot of time it could have used to move toward picking Fine’s replacement and adapt to its new defense when spring practice was wiped out by the pandemic.
That lost time made it a whole lot more important for UNT to get off to a quick start in fall workouts.
UNT’s players felt like they did just that while also following the COVID-19 protocols laid out by the school’s athletics department. Davis expressed confidence in UNT’s medical staff to keep him and his teammates safe.
Darden left little doubt about his feeling on playing this fall at a time a handful of players across the country are opting out of the season.
“I don’t have any thoughts about opting out,” Darden said. “I’m playing.”