North Texas suffered what at times seemed like an endless string of bad breaks this season on the injury front.
Running back Oscar Adaway III suffered a season-ending knee injury in fall camp. Wide receivers Tommy Bush and Jyaire Shorter didn’t make it past the second week of the season.
Those losses were factors in the Mean Green reaching their season finale on Saturday against UTSA at Apogee Stadium fighting to stay alive in the bowl chase at 5-6.
UNT needs to pull off a monumental upset of the Roadrunners, who are ranked No. 15 in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, to keep its postseason hopes alive.
If there’s any upside for the Mean Green, it’s that a host of young players have gained valuable experience in a tough year that could pay off in the long run.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to help us in the future,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said of the experience some of his young players gained this season. “You think about all those guys who are freshmen who are making plays.
“We also have guys who have had very difficult injuries who will be back. It’s going to be more of a veteran team that is more experienced. The future’s bright.”
Defensive end Gabriel Murphy certainly thinks so. The Dallas native played in four games in 2019 before emerging as a key player last season, when he posted 4.5 sacks.
The good news is that because of an additional season of eligibility the NCAA granted players due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s still a redshirt freshman and part of UNT’s young core.
The group also includes his twin brother and fellow redshirt freshman defensive end, Grayson, as well as freshman defensive tackle Roderick Brown and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Enoch Jackson.
There are also plenty of talented young offensive skill position players on UNT’s roster, including freshman wide receiver Detraveon Brown and freshman running backs Isaiah Johnson, Ikaika Ragsdale and Ayo Adeyi.
“We have a chance to grow together,” Gabriel Murphy said. “You can see it now. Enoch and Rod came in and are playing well. Being able to build trust with them is big. We have great chemistry among the young guys on this team.
“The sky is the limit. That is what the coaches always tell us. We have so much talent on the team. It’s starting to show up on Saturdays with your young core.”
Gabriel Murphy has 5.0 sacks on the season, while Grayson Murphy has 4.5. Brown has chipped in 4.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks while Jackson has 16 total tackles on the season.
UNT’s young players on offense have been just as productive.
Adeyi has five rushing touchdowns and 402 yards on the season. Ragsdale (365) and Johnson (338) are also closing in on the 400-yard mark.
“There are a bunch of us who have been able to use our abilities to contribute to the team,” Ragsdale said.
UNT might not still be alive in the hunt for a bowl berth if it wasn’t for Brown, who caught a 58-yard strike from Austin Aune in the closing seconds of a game against UTEP to set up Ethan Mooney’s 27-yard game-winning field goal.
UNT’s young players have benefitted from the playing time they have received after several of the team’s veteran players were lost due to injury, but there have been other factors that have led to their growth.
Gabriel Murphy credits the guidance of UNT’s veteran players for helping steer him in the right direction. Senior defensive tackles Dion Novil and Caleb Colvin have both been big influences.
“I can’t thank them enough for teaching me the little things that will help my game,” Murphy said. “I learned from Dion how important it is to come on time to meetings and pay attention, what to watch for on film and what to pick up from offensive linemen. That’s big bro. Whatever he says goes.”
UNT will lean on Murphy and the rest of its young players as it looks to save its season on Saturday. The good news is that game is far from the end for several talented players who are part of UNT’s young core of talent.