Austin Aune emerges from Saturday scrimmage in position to return as UNT's starting quarterback – Denton Record Chronicle

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Updated: August 18, 2022 @ 12:16 pm
North Texas quarterback Austin Aune, right, talks with one of his teammates during the Mean Green’s scrimmage on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
Austin Aune
Grant Gunnell

North Texas quarterback Austin Aune, right, talks with one of his teammates during the Mean Green’s scrimmage on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
North Texas coach Seth Littrell has a process he goes through when it comes to naming his starters at quarterback and every other position.
He sits down with his players and talks about where they stand late in fall practice before announcing anything publicly.
Those meeting won’t take place until this week, but he offered what amounted to a bit of a spoiler on where the battle between quarterbacks Austin Aune and Grant Gunnell stands after the Mean Green’s final Saturday scrimmage of fall practice at Apogee Stadium.
“We have made a decision, obviously,” Littrell said. “We like to get through camp and talk to those guys one-on-one about exactly where we are at.”
While UNT has yet to hold those meetings and make things official, Littrell was clear on where the race stands.
Austin Aune
“Austin is the guy until someone beats him out,” Littrell said. “It hasn’t changed.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed: who’s been on the field first throughout fall practice. Aune started Saturday’s scrimmage and saw most of the time with the first team.
Both Aune and Gunnell had their moments, but it was Aune who emerged from the scrimmage in position to hang on to the starting job he won midway through last season.
Grant Gunnell
The former Argyle standout went 6-for-11 for 85 yards and hit Tommy Bush for a 38-yard touchdown. Gunnell went 8-for-12 for 89 yards and connected with Qualon Farrar for a 20-yard touchdown.
Reaching a decision on a starting quarterback is always critical and has taken on added importance this fall due to UNT’s schedule. The Mean Green open the season with a Conference USA game at UTEP on Aug. 27.
UNT doesn’t have an easy nonconference game to start the season that would offer the opportunity to continue feeling out its options.
Aune started nine games last season after taking over in the fifth week of the year. He threw for 1,991 yards and nine touchdowns. What stood out more than his statistics was the leadership he provided in a five-game winning streak to cap the regular season.
That run saved the year for the Mean Green after a 1-6 start. UNT fell to Miami (Ohio) in the Frisco Football Classic, but there is little doubt the Mean Green were headed in the right direction late in the year.
UNT brought in two quarterback transfers at midterm in JD Head and Stone Earle. When neither provided Aune much competition in the spring, UNT brought in Gunnell.
Gunnell spent time at Memphis and Arizona. He didn’t have a whole lot of time to jump into the competition after arriving following spring practice but quickly adjusted.
The scrimmage capped Gunnell’s best week of fall camp. Aune, who played six seasons of minor league baseball, has said this will be his last season of college football.
Gunnell was highly regarded coming out of St. Pius X High School in Houston and will be a sophomore this fall. The way Gunnell has played since arriving at UNT puts him in position to move into the starting lineup if Aune falters. He’ll be the Mean Green’s presumed starter heading into 2023 if nothing changes.
Improving in the passing game was one of UNT’s goals heading into the offseason. Littrell and his players believe they are on course to reach that goal, even though they appear all but certain to have the same quarterback in Aune.
UNT averaged 197.1 passing yards per game last season, a total that ranked 13th out of 14 teams in Conference USA.
“All of those guys have gotten better,” Littrell said of his quarterbacks. “If you look at their numbers, every single one of them has improved.”
UNT didn’t make either Aune or Gunnell available for comment after the scrimmage, but their teammates expressed confidence in them to help the Mean Green build on last year’s 6-7 campaign.
“I feel great about Austin and Grant. We are comfortable with any of the five of them,” running back Ayo Adeyi said of the quarterbacks on UNT’s roster. “This is the best year we have had with competition at quarterback.”
UNT was hamstrung at wide receiver after losing two of its top threats on the outside in Tommy Bush and Jyaire Shorter after each played in just two games last fall. The Mean Green relied on their running game during their five-game winning streak when they averaged 283 rushing yards per game.
The hope this year is that UNT will be a whole lot more potent at receiver, making it easier on whoever starts at quarterback to be effective.
Bush has continued to come on as he recovers from a broken leg. Transfers Ja’Mori Maclin, Latrell Neville and Jordan Smart have given UNT’s quarterbacks more options.
UNT safety Sean-Thomas Faulkner has tried to contain the Mean Green’s quarterbacks and receivers throughout fall camp. He can see how the group has improved.
“The wide receivers have worked really hard,” Faulkner said. “They are making more plays and are hard to face.”
There was no bigger question for UNT heading into fall camp than who would end up trying to get those receivers the ball.
After Saturday’s scrimmage, Aune is in position to return as UNT’s starter after an eventful offseason.
Aune and his wife, Kristin, now have a baby girl. He briefly considered retiring from football before electing to return and was thrown into a heated quarterback competition with three transfers.
Aune is in position to emerge as UNT’s starting quarterback yet again after a scrimmage that left Littrell feeling good about his team as its opener against UTEP nears.
“Overall, we are on track,” Littrell said. “I feel good about where we are at.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
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