BOONE, N.C.– Appalachian State enters the 2013 season with mixed emotions. The Black and Gold is on its way to the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. Still, it’s important for Scott Satterfield, in his first season as head coach, to leave the program’s 41-year home, the Southern Conference, on a positive note.
The 2013 season also represents a passing of the torch so-to-speak, with a new coach on the sidelines for the first time in 24 years. Jerry Moore resigned his post shortly after the season, giving way for a new direction, led by the aforementioned Satterfield. The Mountaineers also have a new sheriff in town at the helm of the defense, hiring Nate Woody away from Wofford in hopes of fashioning the same kind of dominance out of the 3-4 defensive alignment as he was able to manufacture year-in and year-out at Wofford.
Before Appalachian State can enter its new era as a program in the Sun Belt next season, the Mountaineers must find the motivation to play a season without being eligible for a Southern Conference title or an FCS national title in 2013, much like Ohio State did last year, or Auburn was able to do in 1994. It might seem somewhat of a shame that players such as Jamal Londry-Jackson (268-for-406 passing, 3,278 yds, 21 TDs, 8 INTs/328 rush yds,6 TDs), Patrick Blalock (63 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2 FRs, 4 PBUs, 2 INTs), Jamill Lott (39 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 PBUs, 1.0 TFL), or Tony Washington (39 rec, 472 yards, 3 TDs, averaging 12.1 YPR) will be eligible for a championship, as the four veteran seniors have given so much to the program over the years on the offensive and defensive sides of the football, respectively, over the previous four seasons.
The Mountaineers will enter their final season as a Southern Conference member as one of the top teams in FCS football once again, returning 17 starters to the fold from a team that finished the 2012 campaign with a share of the Southern Conference title and an 8-4 overall mark, bowing out of the FCS playoffs in the second round, with a heartbreaking, 38-35, loss to Illinois State.
The Mountaineers return 10 starters on the offensive side of the football, with the only loss being running back Steven Miller, ho posted the seventh-best individual rushing haul in school history, amassing 1,368 yards rushing on the season
Offensively, the Mountaineers have maybe the top offensive unit in the nation returning for the 2013 season, which will include the return of 10 starters from a unit that averaged 464.0 YPG and 33.0 PPG last season.
Among those starters will be possibly the top corps of receivers to ever play at the school, which will be Walter Payton Award candidate Sean Price (1,196 rec yds, 8 TDs) returning for his sophomore campaign after his record-setting freshman campaign, while All-SoCon wideouts Andrew Peacock (795 rec. yds, 4 TDs, 2 TD passes) and Washington also return.
Malachi Jones (32 rec, 370 yds, 2 TDs, 11.6 YPR) will look to build on a campaign that saw him garner SoCon All-Freshman accolades in 2012.
Price, Peacock, Washington and Jones will all likely find themselves on either the First or Second Team All-SoCon scrolls heading into the campaign, and each wideout brings something different to the table.
Peacock is a tough, hard-nosed receiver with good quickness and hands. Jones probably has the best hands on the team, while Washington and Price have explosive speed. Washington will also be a supreme threat in the return game for the Mountaineers this fall, having taken a kickoff back 99 yards for a score in the loss to Wofford last season, and comes in averaging 27.3 yards-per-return.
ASU should also be in good shape at tight end Drew Bailey (9 rec, 123 yds, 4 TDs, 13.7 YPR) returns, where he turned in an outstanding first season as a starter in the ASU spread, after being asked to fill some really big shoes after the graduation of Ben Jorden. Few will forget Bailey’s acrobatic diving grab for a TD in the win over Coastal Carolina last season.
The Mountaineers also might have the top quarterback in FCS football in 2013, in rising senior signal-caller Jamal Londry-Jackson. Jackson’s 2012 season was the second-best season in school history in terms of passing yardage, as his 3,278 passing yards were second to only Armanti Edwards’ 3,291 passing yards in 2009. Jackson was at the center of what proved to be the second-best offensive output by a Mountaineer football team in school history, bested only by the ’07 team in that category.
Jackson, who enters his senior season with 5,436-career passing yards and 6,160 yards of total offense already ranks fourth and fifth on those respective lists in school history, and with a season similar to 2012, Londry-Jackson has a chance to second on both career charts. Outside Jackson, Logan Hallock (20-of-21 passing, 230 yds, 2 TDs/13 rush yds) and Kalik Barnes will occupy the second and third strings, respectively.
The offensive line saw the most improvement, battling injuries for much of the season. Leading the a unit that returns intact from last season will be left tackle Kendall Lamm (18-career starts), who will likely enter the season as an All-America candidate. Lamm will team with Graham Fisher (17-career starts), Alex Acey (18 career starts), Tucker Lee (4-career starts) and Will Corbin (9-career starts).
The lone area of concern facing the Apps in 2013 on the offensive side of the football will be running back, where the Mountaineers must find a way to replace Steven Miller, who posted the seventh-best individual rushing haul in school history, amassing 1,368 yards rushing on the season. That job likely falls now to talented redshirt freshman Ty’sean Holloway.
The Asheville, N.C. product was rated as a 2-star recruit by rivals.com, and was sensational during his prep career at Asheville High School, rushing for 4,844 yards and 77 TDs during his four years as a prep.
The defensive side of the football is a bit of a different story, as four veteran players that garnered either All-America or All-SoCon honors have graduated, but the future is bright for the young and rising stars in the ASU 3-4 defense.
The Mountaineers lose several key pieces to graduation, including Troy Sanders and Demetrius McCray in the secondary and talented senior linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough and Brandon Grier.
The Mountaineers have several stars in the making defensively heading into 2013, with the likes of Ronald Blair (60 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FR) returning up front for his third season as a starter at defensive end, as well as welcoming back Doug Middleton to the secondary–a playmaking safety/outside linebacker on the ASU defense that was lost in the season-opener to a season-ending knee injury.
Teaming with Blair up front this season will be Davante Harris (34 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.0 sack) and nose tackle Stephen Burns (37 tackles, 4.5 TFL), as both were significant role players along the ASU defensive front this past season.
Harris is a powerful, athletic weapon on the perimeter, while Deuce Robinson (39 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sack) will also add an athletic presence on the perimeter of the Mountaineer defense this fall, and will also be a player that new defensive coordinator Nate Woody will be able to use in a variety of different scenarios this season.
Maybe the most surprising player to step in and really make a difference on that Mountaineer defensive front last fall at defensive end was Adam Scott (21 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 blkd kick). Scott has quickness and power, with an uncanny ability to simply overpower offensive tackles with his strength and power on a bull-rush, similar to former Mountaineer great Josh Jeffries. Scott is athletic enough that he could also find himself in a role as an outside linebacker next fall.
If there’s a player on this defense that I would look for to have a breakout season this fall, it would have to be Robinson, who is coming off a solid spring. Robinson will move back to the defensive line, after having to move to outside linebacker last season as a result of injuries and suspensions.
The Mountaineers will be without Kimbrough and Grier in the middle of that Black and Gold defense this fall, however, will look to Karl Anderson (39 tackles, 1 FR) and Jamal Ware (13 tackles, 3.0 TFL) in the teeth of that unit this fall. Also a player that could figure into a role at one of the two inside linebacker positions for the Mountaineers in 2013 is Brandon McGowan (3 tackles).
Perhaps the most impressive player at middle linebacker this spring has been John Law (2 tackles). The redshirt freshman was highly sought after by some FBS schools, including Cincinnati, and he came to ASU with some pretty impressive accolades.
As a junior, Law garnered first-team Atlanta all-city honors after making 140 tackles with three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2010. He is a tremendous athletic presence, and was one of the most physical players on the defensive side of the football for the Mountaineers this past spring.
Outside linebacker Michael Frazier (6 tackles) will be back at his natural position after switching from linebacker to fullback two springs ago. There’s a chance Frazier could still be used in short-yardage situations, but will likely be used primarily on the defensive side of the ball this season, and could find himself in a starting role, along with Blalock at outside linebacker this fall with Joel Ross (46 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 TDs, 2 PBUs) moving back to defensive back. Also in the fold at outside linebacker will be Patrick Blalock, who moves up from safety.
The Mountaineers should be a physical unit at linebacker this fall despite the losses of Kimbrough and Grier to graduation. One of the best spring camps turned in by any Mountaineer came from Frazier, who showed plenty of physicality and athleticism to play on the edge this fall. Blalock’s power and aggression will likely be more of an asset to him and the Mountaineer defense at OLB this season than it was at free safety, as Blalock excelled at making plays against the run when he was in the box last season.
Maybe the biggest question mark on the defensive side of the football heading into the fall is the secondary, which graduates the All-SoCon tandem of Demetrius McCray and Troy Sanders at cornerback and safety, respectively.
The secondary will certainly have some question marks heading into the 2013 season, but also returns some players that were forced to sit out the 2012 season as a result of injuries.
You don’t just replace players like Sanders and McCray overnight, but there is some young talent ready to step up and provide support despite those very big voids to be filled at safety and cornerback, respectively, this fall.
Ross had some good moments in the Mountaineer secondary last fall, and was one of the more underrated players on the defensive side of the football for ASU last fall. One of those play-making moments from Ross came in the 38-28 home loss to Wofford, as he returned a fumble 47 yards for a score in the second quarter of that contest.
He also had a 17-yard INT return for a come-from-behind, 28-25, win on the road at No. 25 Samford a week prior to the loss at home to Wofford. Ross will most likely find himself stepping into the starting role at strong safety, which is the position once occupied by Sanders.
Teaming with Ross and one of the players expected to make an immediate impact in the secondary this fall is the new free safety, which will be Henry Barnes (7 tackles), who will will fill Blalock’s old position this fall. Few will forget Barnes’ huge hit that knocked the helmet off Montana kick returner Jordan Canada, forcing him to cough up the football in last year’s eight-point win over the Grizzlies.
Barnes is one of the most physical players on this defense, and in the new safety, Mountaineer fans will likely see shades of former Buck Buchanan Award candidate Mark LeGree in the way Barnes plays, as well as with his play-making ability at the position.
Barnes will likely find himself in tandem backed up by talented redshirt freshman Drew Davies, as it will be an extremely inexperienced depth chart at the safety positions for the Mountaineers in 2013. Another player figuring into the mix in the Mountaineer defensive backfield at the ‘star’ safety/linebacker position this fall will be Doug Middleton (5 tackles), who is coming off a 2012 season which was cut short as the result of an injury suffered in the season opener against East Carolina. Middleton comes into the season as one of the top athletes on the defensive side of the football for ASU, and few will forget the 97-yard INT return for a score he had a couple of years ago as a freshman against North Carolina A&T.
At cornerback, the Mountaineers will look to Rodger Walker (11 tackles) and Jamil Lott (39 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 PBUs, 1.0 TFL) to lead the unit, as both are talented athletes with plenty of speed at the respective cornerback positions. Walker, a 5-10, 177-pound native of Thomasville, GA., battled injuries an illness in limited action last fall, but appears to be fully healthy for the Mountaineers heading into 2013.
Lott is the more experienced of the two cornerbacks, and a player that came into the program as a quarterback, logged action at wide receiver, has now found a home at cornerback for the Mountaineers. Lott, like Ross, is another key, underrated figure on this Appalachian State defense heading into the 2013 season. The 6-1, 200-pound senior will be looked to as the leader in an otherwise extremely young secondary. Lott is a solid athlete and could challenge for All-SoCon accolades this fall.
Aaron Krah (7 tackles) rounds out what is an embarassment of young, talented athletes in the defensive backfield heading into the 2013 season. Appalachian’s deepest part of its defense, well-stocked with young athletes is likely the defensive backfield.
Slated to fill the role of place-kicker this fall for the Black and Gold will be Zach Matics, who apprenticed All-SoCon kicker/punter Sam Martin last season. Matics, who is a redshirt freshman for the Apps from Jacksonville, N.C., is coming off a strong spring game, which saw him kick three field goals in the spring game, including a 48-yarder, while averaging 42.4 yards on four punts on the day. Matics is positioned to follow in a long line of strong Mountaineer place-kicking and punting, which includes the likes of Julian Rauch, Jason Vitaris and most recently, Martin.
Final Spring Outlook “A Tradition To Uphold”
While there’s championship to be won this fall, one need not look beyond the head coach to find motivation for the upcoming season. The Mountaineers will not raise a Southern Conference championship or national championship trophy this fall, but upholding a tradition is something that is important for those who have once donned the Black and Gold.
With Scott Satterfield having quarterbacked the Mountaineers from 1992-95, including being a part of both parts of the spectrum–the school’s only undefeated regular-season in 1995 and the the only team not to finish the regular-season with a winning record in the 24-year coaching career of Jerry Moore in 1993–Satterfield knows how important the Appalachian State tradition is, and what it means to uphold it in boh good and bad times.
Moore never seemed to have trouble getting the Mountaineers motivated to play football, and that’s something that should also come naturally to Satterfield, having been a player himself. In many ways, as a player Satterfield embodied the type player that personifies the Appalachian State football program–one that was highly effective, disciplined, yet not flashy.
The Mountaineers face a challenging slate, and while they cannot win a 13th conference title or play for a fourth national title this fall as a result of the transition to the next level, the Mountaineers can affect the outcome of the SoCon title race, and despite being ineligible for the crown, can leave folks around the league with little doubt as to who was the best team in 2013 by completing the league slate unblemished.
ASU must also play for those who came before to protect that tradition–like head coach Scott Satterfield, who experienced the highs and lows of being a player for the Black and Gold, yet gave his all each Satterfield for the program and what it represented each Saturday. He’ll no doubt expect the same from his players this fall, even more-so without championships to be won and ring ceremonies to be enjoyed at season’s end.