Gabe Blair

Guyer offensive lineman Gabe Blair looks toward the audience after signing his national letter of intent with North Texas on Wednesday at Wildcat Gymnasium.

North Texas didn’t give up when Greenville standout Caleb Johnson committed to Oklahoma last summer.

The Mean Green continued to push their pitch that he would be a great fit as a wide receiver in their wide-open scheme.

That persistence paid off Wednesday when Johnson became one of the most highly regarded recruits to ever sign with the Mean Green on the opening day of the early signing period.

The 5-10 speedster is listed at No. 68 in 247Sports’ composite rankings of the top recruits in Texas in the class of 2021. The site ranks him as the No. 1 recruit to sign with UNT since it started ranking recruits. Johnson was previously committed to the Sooners as a cornerback.

“Staying on him was key,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said during his signing day press conference. “When guys are committed up, sometimes they are not exactly sure what they want to do. I know he wanted to catch the football.

“Ultimately, being able to stay close to home, the relationships we built and his understanding that he can come and play in an offense that knows how to get the ball to guys who have playmaking ability paid off.”

Adding Johnson was UNT’s final move in a highly successful closing run heading into the early signing period. UNT also added Blinn College receiver Bryson Jackson earlier on signing day and Guyer offensive lineman Gabe Blair last week.

Jackson is ranked No. 8 on 247Sports’ composite rankings of the top junior college wide receivers in the country. Blair is another highly regarded prospect. He’s ranked as No. 17 among high school center prospects in the Class of 2021 by 247Sports.

“I’m really excited about the way we closed, and we’re still not done yet,” Littrell said.

UNT announced the addition of 16 players on Wednesday. Littrell said the Mean Green will end up with more than 20 players in its class before wrapping up recruiting for the 2021 class.

UNT has the No. 3-ranked class among Conference USA programs in 247Sports’ rankings. Only Florida Atlantic, which has the league’s top class, and UTSA rank higher.

“We got a lot of great players and kids with really good character,” Littrell said. “There are a lot of playmakers who can come in, compete early and help us.”

Littrell attributed the Mean Green’s success largely to recruiting coordinator Luke Walerius and UNT’s assistant coaches. UNT had to deal with a host of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic while putting together its class.

One of UNT’s biggest assets in recruiting is its facilities, including Apogee Stadium and the Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility, a $16 million indoor venue that opened in the fall of 2019.

UNT offered virtual tours when recruits couldn’t come and see those venues for themselves. Offensive lineman Rayvon Crum of Pinson Valley in Alabama committed to UNT earlier this year even though he hadn’t visited the school.

A virtual tour helped sell him on continuing his career with the Mean Green.

“I love the vibe of the team and the facilities,” Crum said. “It’s really nice.”

The efforts of UNT’s staff helped the Mean Green put together a solid early signing class, despite finishing 4-8 last year. UNT is 4-5 this season and received an invitation to play in next week’s Myrtle Beach Bowl on Sunday.

Littrell said that invitation didn’t play a huge role in UNT closing well in the days leading up to the early signing period.

“The biggest things are the relationships you build with families and the young men and making sure they understand that you care about them and have their best interest in your heart,” Littrell said. “You want them to feel like they can come in here and do special things.”

UNT continued to sell that message heading into the opening of the early signing period and saw it pay off the last few days when it landed two prospects who are among the jewels of its class in Johnson and Blair.

“He’s a guy with great speed that can really stretch the field,” Littrell said of Johnson.

He is equally impressed with Blair, who has been a cornerstone for Guyer the last few years.

“He’s a stud,” Littrell said. “He’s a physical guy. You see that week in and week out. He dominates his opponents.”

Those two late adds are cornerstones of a class Littrell is excited about.

“We got really good prospects on both sides of the ball,” Littrell said. “It’s a solid class overall.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

North Texas signees

Sixteen players signed with North Texas on Wednesday.

Player Position Ht. Wt. School
Gabe Blair OL 6-3 303 Guyer
Rayvon Crum OL 6-5 325 Pinson Valley (Alabama)
Bryce Drummond QB 6-3 205 Pawhuska (Oklahoma)
Kevin Greene DL 6-3 280 Del City (Oklahoma)
Var’Keyes Gumms TE 6-3 230 Dekaney
Kalvin Hutchings DL 6-4 298 Kilgore JC
Bryson Jackson WR 6-0 182 Blinn College
Keith Jackson RB 5-11 205 Fort Bend Ridge Point
Caleb Johnson WR 6-0 180 Greenville
Robert Johnson DB 6-1 190 Memphis (Tennessee) Academy of Health Sciences
Zhighlil McMillan WR 6-1 190 Frisco Independence
Willie Simmons III LB 6-2 208 Elgin
Fehi Vailea DL 6-2 290 Desert Pines (Las Vegas)
Trent Ward DL 6-3 265 Klein Collins
Harold West DB 6-1 190 Arlington Lamar
Chris Wright LB 6-3 220 Aledo

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