The top 10 North Texas football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
DE Jarrian Roberts, Sr.
Roberts is North Texas’ best defensive candidate to contend for all-league honors this season. Lost in the despair that was 2015, No. 30 was the program’s best pass rusher. He’s sized more like a middle linebacker at 6-2 and 252 pounds, which can be problematic on running downs. But Roberts is an energetic and effective pass rusher, as evidenced by last season’s team-high 6.5 sacks and ten overall tackles for minus yards.
RB Jeffrey Wilson, Jr.
North Texas may have found what it was looking for last season, a feature back to take some heat off a suspect passing attack. After sitting out the first two games with a hand injury, he quickly seized control of the opportunity to lead the Mean Green ground game. Wilson ended the year with 830 yards and a touchdown on 155 carries, flashing a penchant for dancing out of trouble and making people miss.
FS Kishawn McClain, Jr.
McClain is off to a great start to his Mean Green career. And he still has half of it remaining. A year after being named Conference USA All-Freshmen in 2014, he racked up a team-best 110 tackles as the cleaner on the back end of the D. McClain finished with double-digit tackles on five separate occasions, playing a lot bigger than his modest 5-11, 201-pound frame.
SS James Gray, Sr.
Gray arrived as a highly-regarded transfer from Fort Scott (Kans.) Community College. And he did not disappoint in 2015, ranking second on the team with 104 tackles to go along with three stops for loss and a pair of forced fumbles. Gray’s pass defense still needs some fine-tuning, but his fearlessness in run support is an asset to the front seven.
QB Alec Morris, Sr.
While nothing is certain, it would take an upset to keep Morris from being Seth Littrell’s first quarterback in Denton. Morris didn’t transfer from Alabama to sit behind a weak lot of hurlers. Instead, the 6-3, 233-pound former blue-chipper has an opportunity to put his big arm on display as the point man of a more upbeat Mean Green system. Morris had one career pass attempt in Tuscaloosa, but should be an instant upgrade at his new school.
LB Fred Scott, Sr.
Scott is one of the steadiest players in Denton. He’s started 23 games in a row, including all 12 last season, and he’s not likely to be outworked. The blue-collar 5-11, 233-pounder will be looking to build on his best season with the school, in which he tallied 68 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, a sack, a pick and two fumble recoveries. One of Scott’s goals in the middle this year will be to prevent yards after contact.
CB Chad Davis, Sr.
Davis is a returning starter to the secondary and the Mean Green’s top cover corner. He totaled 29 tackles, a pick and a team-high six passes defended. The 5-10, 184-pound veteran won’t many egregious mistakes in pass defense, and he’ll contribute on special teams as well. One of the highlights of 2015 for Davis was his 80-yard return of a blocked PAT versus UTSA.
P Eric Keena, Sr.
For better or worse, one of North Texas’ most reliable players this fall will be its punter. Keena has handled the role the past two years, earning honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2014. A season ago, he ranked fourth in the league with an average of 44.2 yards, while hammering 14 of his 32 kickoffs into the opposing end zone.
C Sam Rice, Sr.
Rice was one of just two Mean Green players to start every game of 2015. The 6-4, 297-pound fixture at left guard, who has now shifted inside to center, began his college career at SMU before making the move to Denton. Rice was among the cleanest of the North Texas blockers, minimizing his mistakes and doing a particularly nice job of creating daylight for the running backs.
LB Cortney Finney, Sr.
Finney lettered in his first year removed from Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College, contributing at weakside. He came off the bench to make 42 stops and a couple of fumble recoveries, while improving as the season unfolded. Finney is only 5-11 and 220 pounds, which allows him to fly around the field and make plays on defense and special teams.