BOONE — Watauga’s wrestling program has hit some hard times in recent years. New coach Zach Strickland would like to be the coach to lift the Pioneers back to prominence.
Strickland was hired to be the program’s new mentor May 11 after being the Watauga middle school coach the past four years. Strickland, who is originally from Muncy, Pa., wrestled at Appalachian State under former Pioneers coach JohnMark Bentley, who built a solid program at Watauga.
He lent a hand with the varsity last season and is excited to be the head coach of the program.
“I’m definitely ready,” Strickland said. “Helping out with the high school that last month last year definitely put the fire underneath me. I’ve enjoyed working with the other kids with the middle school, but with the level of wrestling that exists in the state, I am definitely excited to be a part of that.”
Strickland has his work cut out for him. The Pioneers lose their top wrestler, 220-pounder Ben Oakes, to graduation. Oakes reached the 100-win mark while at Watauga, but the Pioneers return around 14 wresters from the 2019-20 season.
App State football
SUMTER, S.C. — Sumter High School linebacker Deshawn McKnight committed to play at Appalachian State May 7, according to the Sumter Item newspaper.
McKnight helped lead Sumter to a 10-1 overall record, 4-0 in the region in the 2019 season. McKnight finished with 51 total tackles, 37 of them solo efforts. He also had seven tackles for a loss, including two for minus 14 yards in losses.
McKnight also intercepted one pass and blocked a punt for the Fighting Gamecocks. He can play inside and outside linebacker.
According to the Item, McKnight had been in contact with Appalachian State since September. The Item said McKnight attended a game last season and that App State coaches have been in contact with him throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
BOONE — Most NFL rookies can benefit from any type of edge to make an NFL roster. Often, the ability or the potential to play special teams is that edge that results in a weekly NFL paycheck.
Former Appalachian State running back Darrynton Evans and linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither fall into that category. They have that edge both in experience and in potential by proving in college that they could play special teams at a high level.
Evans, who was also a kick returner at App State, proved it by using his sub-4.4 speed (he said he’s been clocked running the 40-yard dash in 4.36) to return kickoffs for touchdowns. Evans returned three kickoffs for touchdowns —including one for 100 yards at then No. 9 Penn State — while at App State.
Evans is also the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year, two-time Sun Belt championship game MVP and was selected in the third round, 93rd overall, in the 2020 NFL draft.
Davis-Gaither, the fourth-round selection of the Cincinnati Bengals, was the Sun Belt Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. He has been clocked running a 4.5 40-yard dash.
Davis-Gaither also blocked a field goal that preserved App State’s 34-31 win over North Carolina in 2019.
App State football
BOONE — It may be said that the most important assistant coach at Appalachian State is the technology coach.
While Appalachian State’s football team is not allowed to visit the homes of potential recruits, or bring them on trips to Boone to see the App State campus, they are still allowed to contact them via phone calls or by using communication methods such as Zoom calls.
The COVID-19 virus has limited college football teams, including Appalachian State, from getting a chance to see their potential student-athletes practice or go through individual workouts. Instead, coaches must rely on game tape and electronic conversations to get an idea if they want the potential player in their program.
It also works the other way, as potential players aren’t allowed to meet with the coach at the institution before making a decision.
The one commodity App State’s coaching staff has is time. Since they are not on the field coaching or on an interstate driving to a recruit’s house, they have time to reach out to a recruit and his family.
“The biggest thing now is to contact these kids on a daily basis,” App State recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Justin Watts said. “Most of us have probably done more recruiting than we’ve ever done before because you’re not involved in spring practice.”