BOONE —Appalachian State has been busy since the Mountaineers beat Alabama-Birmingham 31-17 in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21.
Since then, the Mountaineers signed three new incoming freshmen to their roster, including Watauga standout Anderson Castle. App State head coach Shawn Clark has also been busy building a coaching staff that includes former longtime NFL assistant coach Robert Nunn on Feb. 10, who was named defensive line coach on Feb. 10.
The next major item on the Mountaineers’ agenda is spring practice, which begins Feb. 18. Clark feels that the past week’s rain and snow works in the Mountaineers’ favor.
“I think it will be great for us,” Clark said. “We have to play in those conditions in October and November sometimes and we expect to play at home in December. We have to get used to knowing we’ll have to play games in this and that’s in our favor.”
Clark said much of the spring workouts would be used to build depth at all positions. Appalachian State suffered losses of starters in the secondary, including defensive backs Josh Johnson and Desmond Franklin, linebackers Noel Cook, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Jordan Fehr on defense.
Offensively, App State must replace tight end Collin Reed, four-year starter at offensive tackle Victor Johnson and running back Darrynton Evans, who declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft.
“We’ve done a great job of identifying who our next-up guys are,” Clark said. “This spring will be heavily involved with young guys. We’ll find the next five offensive linemen. We’ll find the next quarterback, the next corner, so this will be a big spring for our young guys.”
App State’s offensive line returns four starters from 2019. Clark, who coached the Mountaineers’ offensive line before being named head coach, hired former App State tight end and assistant coach Nic Cardwell to coach the Mountaineers’ offensive line for 2020.
Clark is excited at the youth of the backups coming into the spring, including three recruits who graduated high school a semester early so they could enroll at App State and participate in spring workouts.
“There are guys who have got to step in and see what their roles are with the team,” Clark said.
Losing Cook, Davis-Gaither and Fehr at linebacker leaves the Mountaineers with three big gaps in their defense, but Clark feels the Mountaineers are deep at the position.
“We lost Jordan Fehr, who is a great football player, but we have a lot of young talent behind him and this spring will be invaluable to those guys getting plenty of reps. We lost Akeem and Noel Cook and those two spots are all-conference players, but we had some young guys who played there last year at those spots. Again, this spring will give them a chance to really hone in on their skills and the details of our defense this year.”
Those players who have been with the program for more than one season will see a familiar face as an assistant coach as Dale Jones returns to the program to be the defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach. Jones has coached either linebackers or defensive linemen for 23 years at App State before leaving to coach inside linebackers at Louisville in 2019.
The defense has two new coaches in defensive line coach Robert Nunn, cornerbacks coach James Rowe and safeties coach Mark DeBastiani.
The spring workouts also bring a new expectation that has not been seen at App State. The Mountaineers were ranked 18th in the Amway Coaches Poll and 19th in the Associated Press poll at the end of the season. The Amway poll put the Mountaineers in front of No. 19 Michigan and the AP poll put the Mountaineers in front of No. 25 Texas.
“Any time you’re a top 25 team and the second year in a row in North Carolina as the highest ranked team, that’s what you want,” Clark said of the expectations. “That’s why you come to Appalachian State for the high expectations. We expect to win our conference. We expect to win our bowl games. We certainly expect to play for championships.”