Texada, Richards relishing new roles for the North Texas defense

Kelvin Rausaw

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When Eric Morris was the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech from 2013 to 2017, one team consistently gave him fits: Iowa State and its vaunted 3-3-5 defense.

“I hated playing against it," Morris said at American Athletic Conference Media Days. "I hated game planning against it. I thought that they did more with less. I thought that it was revolutionary."

Of course, Morris hired a student of the scheme he loathed to be defensive coordinator once he took over as North Texas's head coach. Matt Caponi coached the Iowa State cornerback room from 2019 to 2022, studying at the foot of renowned coordinator Jon Heacock. In the final two years Caponi was on staff, the Cyclones finished ninth and fourth in the nation in total defense, respectively. He's brought the same defensive front to Denton in hopes of fixing a unit that's ranked in the triple digits nationally in points per game allowed in three of the past four seasons.

North Texas will roll out three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs in 2023. In a sport that continually favors the passing game, the 3-3-5 puts more athletes on the field to cover a spread attack. But even though they only rush three out of the base package, they will still generate pressure. The extra linebackers and secondary guys can come crashing down on a blitz from anywhere on the field.

"Where they’re all spaced out, they can pull the trigger with multiple guys," Morris said. "So it’s hard for O-linemen to get their eyes right and be focused on the right guy. There’s multiple people that can fit certain gaps and I think that makes it tough for us to know who it’s going to be.”

On the first day of fall camp Wednesday, the Mean Green's top playmakers were excited about a new scheme that plays to their strengths. Cornerback Ridge Texada broke out last season with 15 pass breakups en route to a First Team All-Conference USA selection, but the sophomore is chomping at the bit to play in a five-man secondary. With three safeties patrolling the middle of the field, he will be trusted on the outside to lock up opposing receivers.

"I get to play a lot more press man (coverage) and be able to use my ability and my technique more in this defense," Texada said. "I feel like the passing defense, we’re going to be flying around."

While Texada gets to play more man instead of zone, Mazin Richards's transition this year is far more drastic. The junior roamed all over the field last season at linebacker, covering tight ends, running backs and wide receivers. But at 6-foot-3 inches and 245 pounds, Richards was a menace in the backfield with 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Now in the 3-3-5, he will move to end full-time. 

"I’m kind of a pass rush guy," Richards said at American Athletic Conference Media Days. "That’s kind of my calling card. Just being able to rush the passer almost every play is going to be fun for me.” 

Morris thinks Richards is settling in just fine at defensive end. The defender might've even given him some nightmare flashbacks in Wednesday's practice.

"This was the first day I’ve gotten to see Mazin live and in action," Morris. "He made a couple plays out there coming off the edge where I had to do a double take like, ‘Who was that coming off the edge?’"

Texada and Richards are no strangers to adjustment. Both starred in Texas high school football in the DFW area, Texada at Frisco Centennial and Richards and Burleson Centennial, but had to start their college careers at the sub-FBS level. Texada spent the 2020 season at McNeese State and now enters his third year with the Mean Green cemented as a team leader. He's the third member in his family to play defensive back in Division I football after older brother Ranthony was a First Team All-Conference pick at TCU and middle brother Raleigh played five seasons at Baylor.

On the other hand, Richards suited up for three seasons at Eastern New Mexico and was the 2021 Lone Star Conference Defensive Linemen of the Year before North Texas called him back home. He was nervous about of his first offseason at the Division I level last year, wondering if his talent would stack up. He said he rapidly gained confidence when he started competing in pass rush drills and won every single one into fall camp. 

"Honestly, I think it shows that if you ball anywhere they’re going to find you," Texada said. "You can enter the portal and it could be a better change for you. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out but, Mazin and me, it worked out for us."

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