College Sports

December 31, 2013

Senior linebacker the face of North Texas’ football turnaround

DeSoto’s Zach Orr brings energy and heart to the Mean Green’s 26th-ranked defense. They're playing now in the Heart of Dallas Bowl - 11 a.m., ESPNU.

North Texas linebacker Zach Orr’s hopes and dreams of landing a job in the NFL has quite the impassioned, not to mention eloquent, advocate.

His coach could go on and on and did at an interview session Tuesday leading up to Wednesday’s 11 a.m. Heart of Dallas Bowl matchup against UNLV at the famed Cotton Bowl.

“He’s left a much stronger impression and greater legacy on our program than we have had on him,” Dan McCarney said. “Hopefully, we’ve had an impact on his life, but he’s had such an impact on all of our lives.

“If I was a betting man, which I’m not, he will make it in the NFL. He’s left this great legacy on the right way to do things and such a great role model. We’ll be talking about Zach Orr for many years to come on how to do it on and off the field.”

The senior linebacker from DeSoto and team captain is the face of the Mean Green football program’s reemergence on the college football scene.

He is the program’s energy and its soul, not to mention a critical piece of a defense that ranks 26th nationally overall and first in not allowing teams to score in the red zone.

New Year’s Day 2014 will be a bittersweet one for North Texas fans.

Orr will take the field as a college football player one last time with his teammates and a senior class that has experienced the lowest of the lows in four- and five-year careers.

Once done, Orr will leave behind one of the best careers in North Texas’ 100 years of football.

He is one of only seven players in school history to record more than 300 tackles in a career and one of only four to record back-to-back seasons with more than 100 tackles.

The first-team Conference USA performer had a career-high 114 tackles and a team-leading 11 tackles for loss, including at least one in six straight games.

Orr’s four fumble recoveries led the conference and he was second in forced fumbles.

Most important, though, was Orr’s decision to stay at North Texas after his freshman season when school administrators replaced Todd Dodge, who went 5-19 in his final two seasons, with McCarney.

Orr, McCarney said, has provided the essential leadership needed to bring the Mean Green from the depths of college football despair and to the school’s first bowl game in nine seasons. North Texas will be seeking only its second bowl victory in school history.

“The joy of this job is getting to be around young men like Zach Orr,” McCarney continued. “You talk about character, pride and loyalty … . Three years, I’ve never had one issue with him on or off the field.”

All the struggles “made me appreciate this all the more,” said Orr, who called the program during those days “the laughing stock of college football.”

This bowl game, he said, is his best “gift” of the holiday season.

“It made us tough,” Orr said, speaking for his senior teammates. “We never panic because we’ve been through a lot. And we overcame that. So we think we can overcome anything.”

Today, the Mean Green hope that will be the Rebels, who were 7-5 and finished third in the Mountain West Conference’s West Division.

Orr graduated last month, so he’ll soon be off to work on his NFL prospects in hopes of becoming the first North Texas player drafted since Cody Spencer in 2004.

At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds he’s considered undersized by NFL scouts.

But he’s quick and seemingly always has a knack for being around the ball.

Some compare him to undersized linebackers such as Dat Nguyen or Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David, a comparison Orr made himself.

“I’ll figure that out after the bowl game,” said Orr, whose dad, Terry, was a 10th round draft pick of the Washington Redskins and enjoyed an eight-year career in the league.

His dad “told me to finish out this last bowl game and continue to work hard and everything else will take care of itself.”

Orr, a C-USA all-academic selection, said he’s also a better student of the game after two years of tutelage under North Texas defensive coordinator John Skladany.

Orr, McCarney said, will be “a tough cut” to make, if he doesn’t make it.

Whenever his playing days are over, Orr said he plans to coach, a vocation rather than a job designed ultimately “give back what so many coaches” have given him.

That’s why, Orr said, McCarney was wrong about the people of the program having an effect on him. They have made him better and prepared for whatever comes next on his journey.

“He’s a great leader, very humble. He leads by example,” said safety Marcus Trice. “He’s an incredible playmaker, an incredible leader, an incredible friend.

“I’m glad he’s my teammate.”

Heart of Dallas Bowl

UNLV vs. North Texas

11 a.m. Wednesday, Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas


Records: UNLV 7-5, 5-3 MWC; North Texas 8-4, 6-2 C-USA

Key points: Before earning berths to Wednesday’s game, UNLV and North Texas combined for 22 years of bowl absence. North Texas hasn’t played a bowl game since losing to Southern Miss in the 2004 New Orleans Bowl. UNLV hasn’t played a postseason game since beating Arkansas in the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl. Both teams should be amped for today’s matchup. North Texas has thrived off its stingy defense and is giving up just 18.1 points a game, ninth best in the nation. The Mean Green will have to slow UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring (2,522 passing yards with 22 touchdowns and just four interceptions) and running back Devante Davis (1,194 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns). North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson has thrown for 2,640 yards and 14 touchdowns but also has 13 interceptions. Mean Green running back Brandin Byrd has run for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Tarrant ties: North Texas has multiple area players on its roster. Defensive back Brandon Allen played at Mansfield Summit, DB Peter Ashton is from Keller, DE Aaron Bellazin went to Everman, DB Kenny Buyers played for Hurst L.D. Bell, DT Mustafa Haboul went to Arlington Martin, TE Jarrod Lynn played for Grapevine, TE Wylie Reinhardt went to Saginaw, LB Fred Scott played for Kennedale, TE Tanner Smith went to Nolan Catholic, and OL Connor Trussell played for Arlington Martin.

— Brent Shirley

Head to head

Category UNT UNLV
Points per game 31.5 31.3
Total offense 411.6 423.8
Pass offense 227.6 181.4
Rush offense 184 242.4
3rd down conv. 45.9% 39.9%
Points allowed 18.1 31.5
Total defense 355.5 436.3
Pass defense 230.4 214.5
Rush defense 125.1 221.8
Def. 3rd down conv. 36% 46.6%

North Texas bowl history

Salad Bowl 1947 Nevada L, 13-6
Sun Bowl 1959 New Mexico State L, 28-8
New Orleans Bowl 2001 Colorado State W, 24-19
New Orleans Bowl 2002 Cincinnati L, 45-20
New Orleans Bowl 2003 Memphis L, 27-17
New Orleans Bowl 2004 Southern Miss L, 31-10

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