The opening of fall practice in college football marks a new beginning, and normally a time of change for teams across the country.
At North Texas, Friday’s landmark workout seemed like more of a continuation of what has long been successful.
Quarterback Mason Fine was still slinging the ball around at Apogee Stadium. Michael Lawrence and Rico Bussey Jr. hauled in several of those passes.
Head coach Seth Littrell was roaming the sidelines like he has for the last four years.
The changes UNT made in the offseason were the story of the last few months. The Mean Green brought on five new assistant coaches, including a offensive coordinator in Bodie Reeder.
UNT seemed to have settled in following those changes as the Mean Green began to turn their attention to their season opener on Aug. 31 at home against Abilene Christian because of the foundation that remains in place.
“We have a really old team,” Lawrence said. “We picked up where we left off from spring. We have a bunch of veterans who have been here for four years.”
That familiar mix helped UNT get off to what Littrell saw as a promising start to fall drills.
“I’m really excited about our leaders stepping up in the summer and leading into fall camp,” Littrell said. “We were really positive and showed a lot of energy. This is day one. This is going to be the easiest day of the whole year. If it’s not positive now, you’re not going to have a very good football team. We will keep working, but I was excited about today.”
There might not be a more important leader among UNT’s players than Fine. He experienced a few nervous moments after former offensive coordinator Graham Harrell left for Southern California after last season.
Those times were long in the past on the opening day of fall drills.
“I’m pretty caught up on the install,” Fine said of the system Reeder and Littrell created in the offseason that incorporates elements of what both have used in the past. “The only things will be when he [Reeder] puts in a new wrinkle. I feel up to date on the base stuff. All I have to do is go out there and execute.”
The excitement that accompanies preparing for a new season was also felt on the defensive side of the ball. UNT lost several of its key players, including linebacker E.J. Ejiya and cornerback Kemon Hall, a pair of standouts who earned first-team All-Conference USA honors as seniors last season.
Senior defensive end LaDarius Hamilton and Jack linebacker Jamie King are the only two returning players who started in UNT’s front six in the New Mexico Bowl last season.
Hamilton expressed confidence in fellow defensive linemen Dion Novil and Tuulau Sa’afi to help UNT rebuild.
“We have a lot of things to work on, but it was a good day,” Hamilton said. “There was a lot of excitement out there.”
There were also a whole lot of veterans on the field who helped UNT get off to a good start.
“This senior group has been very impressive,” Littrell said. “That group has been to three bowl games and was a part of back-to-back nine-win seasons. The great thing is that they are not close to satisfied. They know we have so much more in the tank. They want to leave an unbelievable legacy.”
UNT opens workouts without two defensive ends
UNT opened fall practice without defensive ends David Sow and Kenneth Dotson.
Both are working through the process of meeting qualifying standards to join the team, a school spokesman said.
Littrell declined to comment on the status of either player other than saying, “We’ll see.”
Sow and Dotson were both members of UNT’s 2019 recruiting class and were rated as three-star recruits by 247Sports. Sow last played for Navarro College, while Dotson is a former Houston Lamar standout.
Fullerton College product Asher Frow committed to join UNT’s program as a blueshirt over the summer. Prospects who blueshirt enroll in school, join a team as a walk-on and are then given a scholarship that counts against the following year’s allotment of scholarships.
A UNT spokesman said Frow is at UNT and is in the process of joining the team.
Frow could help fill the void if Sow and Dotson do not continue their careers with the Mean Green.
Fine reaches another milestone
Fine spoke to his mother just a few days ago about reaching another milestone in his time at UNT, the opening of his last fall camp with the Mean Green.
“It’s bittersweet,” Fine said. “There are going to be a lot of ‘lasts’ this year. I’m not taking it for granted. I’m soaking it in and am giving it my best effort with no regrets.”
Fine enters his senior season as UNT’s all-time leading passer with 9,417 yards, a total that also makes him the active leader in major college football.