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How an Oklahoma quarterback helped lead North Texas' resurgence

Former Oklahoma prep star Mason Fine will try to lead North Texas to a school-record 10th win of the season Saturday. The Mean Green plays Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl. [AP PHOTO]

Former Oklahoma prep star Mason Fine will try to lead North Texas to a school-record 10th win of the season Saturday. The Mean Green plays Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl. [AP PHOTO]

The way Mason Fine has heard the story, he was one of four quarterbacks that North Texas was looking at three years ago.

Seth Littrell had just taken over the program and hired Graham Harrell as his offensive coordinator. They wanted to throw the ball more. Throw it like Oklahoma did when Littrell was a fullback on the 2000 national championship team. Throw it like Texas Tech when Harrell was a quarterback there under Mike Leach in the mid-2000s.

But they needed a better arm.

Littrell walked into Harrell's office one day as he was reviewing film of the candidates. A couple had good recruiting marks — three and four stars — but Harrell liked Fine. He had been prolific at Locust Grove, breaking Oklahoma high school career passing records for yards and touchdowns, but he had no major-college scholarship offers.

He was only 5-foot-11.


“Are you sure?” Littrell asked Harrell. “I'm gonna take a lot of heat for going with this kid that isn't being highly recruited.”

Harrell said, “I'm telling you, this guy is the best.”

Fine has proved him right.

On the day the bowl season kicks off, North Texas will face Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl with a chance to win its 10th game for the first time in program history. Even though the reasons for this team's successes are many, none is more important than Fine.

And the junior's impact goes beyond already breaking most of the school's passing records.

“He wants to be great and wants everyone around him to be great,” Littrell said earlier this season. “He has high expectations and holds himself to high standards.

“He is one of those special guys where average is not good enough to him.”

Littrell and Harrell couldn't have known Fine's mentality when they were watching his film, but it didn't take long to figure it out. The coaches went to Locust Grove, talked to coaches, talked to teammates, talked to Fine, and by the time they left, they knew they'd found their guy.

Fine was equally convinced. Littrell and Harrell sold an offensive scheme and a program mentality — being selfless, tough and disciplined — that mirrored what Fine knew at Locust Grove.

Within a week of first contact, Fine was committed.

“It was weird because it happened so fast,” said Fine, who's only major-college option had been a preferred walk-on at Oklahoma State. “For two years, you're not hearing anything, you're getting frustrated with the recruiting process. Then all of a sudden, your prayers are answered, and everything — bam, bam, bam — is a perfect fit.”

Was then.

Still is.

Fine has not only led North Texas to back-to-back nine-win seasons with a chance to notch No. 10, but he has also developed into one of the most accurate passers in all of college football. Pro Football Focus recently ranked him first on both tight-window throws and throws graded perfect.

Winning tops Fine's priorities, but accuracy is a point of pride.

“People were always saying when I was growing up, ‘Oh, you're too small to see over the line. How are you going to see receivers? How are you going to be accurate if you can't see where you're throwing?'” he said.

Those questions have been replaced by others. Fine was so good for North Texas that some asked earlier this season whether he might transfer. Go to a bigger school. Play his final year in a brighter spotlight.

Fine isn't about to do that — and it goes back to that day three years ago when the North Texas coaches decided he was their guy.

“Knowing that Coach Littrell and Coach Harrell were going to take that leap of faith with me meant the world,” Fine said. “I owe them something every day that I'm here.

“I try to be the best player that I can for them.”

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at, follow her at or view her personality page at


North Texas
vs. Utah State

• When: 1 p.m.,

• Where: Dreamstyle Stadium,

• TV: ESPN (Cox 29)


in bowl games


Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›