Joe Greene and Brandon Kennedy are the two greatest defensive tackles in North Texas history.
Freshman weren’t allowed to play college football in the 1960s so Greene lettered only three seasons at North Texas. But he earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors all three of his seasons and remains the only consensus All-America in school history.
Freshman are now allowed to play college ball and Kennedy became one of only four players in North Texas history to win all-conference honors all four of his seasons. He was second-team All-Big West as a freshman and then first-team All-Sunbelt Conference in his final three seasons. He also was the Sunbelt Defensive Player of the Year in both 2002 and 2003.
Greene became the fourth overall pick of the 1969 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He went on to win four Super Bowl rings and earn spots on both the NFL’s 100th anniversary team and in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kennedy went undrafted in 2004 and never played a down in the NFL.
Dion Novil is anxious to find out if and where he fits in between Greene and Kennedy in the historical pecking order of North Texas defensive tackles.
Novil was a three-year starter and a two-time first-team All-Conference USA selection. He collected 37 ½ career tackles-for-loss and 10 ½ sacks – far short of the school-record 61 tackles-for-loss by Kennedy and his 18 sacks. But Novil is not short of Kennedy in one key aspect – his height.
Kennedy did not fit the NFL’s prototype for the defensive interior – not at 5-9 ½, 332 pounds. Which is why he went to training camp as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos and didn’t last the summer. Players that size tend to get smothered by all those 6-3 and 6-4 guards in NFL blocking fronts.
But Novil measured a shade under 6-2 and 301 pounds at his pro day last week. Those four extra inches of height Novil has over Kennedy will garner him longer looks from NFL talent evaluators as they build their draft boards. And they will have plenty of tape to study of, essentially, two different players.
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Novil bulked up at 330 in 2020 to play inside in the defensive scheme of Clint Bowen. He collected 38 tackles, 8 ½ tackles-for-loss and 2 ½ sacks as a power player in 2020 on his way to first-team all-conference honors. But when Phil Bennett replaced Bowen as defensive coordinator in 2021, he wanted Novil to slim down and play at 300. Novil posted 49 tackles, nine tackles-for-loss and a career-high four sacks as more of a speed player in 2021 to repeat as a first-team all-conference selection.
Although he weighed 301 at his pro day, Novil is not married to a specific weight.
“It depends on where I go,” Novil said. “I felt that 300 was a happy medium, whether they wanted me to get bigger or smaller. That was the right number for me to start at.”
Novil had career-bests of 11 tackles in a 2019 game against Alabama-Birmingham, five tackles-for-loss in a 2020 game Rice and his only career interception in a 2021 game against SMU. He also forced four fumbles in his career and blocked three kicks. Novil participated in the Hula Bowl but was not invited to the combine.
Linebacker Ladarius Hamilton of North Texas was not invited to the combine in 2021, either. He played in the NFL last season for the Packers. Neither wide receiver Jalen Guyton nor cornerback Kemon Hall was invited to the combine back in 2019. Guyton has played three seasons now for the Chargers and has caught six touchdown passes, including bombs of 72, 70, 59 and 44 yards from Justin Herbert. Hall also played for the Chargers in 2021.
None of those three players was drafted. Zach Orr was not invited to the combine in 2014 nor was he drafted. He signed with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent and started at inside linebacker for the Ravens before a neck injury ended his career after only three seasons.
Running back Jeff Wilson also went undrafted out of North Texas in 2018. He has now played four seasons with the 49ers, turning in three 100-yard rushing games and scoring 17 career touchdowns. He just signed a new three-year contract with San Francisco.
Every North Texas player doesn’t have to be Joe Greene to reach the NFL. There are quality soccer players on campus. Sometimes NFL teams have to look a little harder to find them. Novil is hoping they keep looking this spring.