One step ahead of the offense

Jordan Fehr (59) patrols the middle of the Appalachian State defense.

BOONE — Nobody disputes that Zac Thomas is the quarterback of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.

When the App State offense is on the field, Thomas is in charge. It’s up to him to make sure the Mountaineers’ offense runs smoothly, everybody lines up in the right place and puts points on the scoreboard.

App State has another full-time quarterback — on the defense.

That quarterback is inside linebacker Jordan Fehr. The senior from Charlotte takes the responsibility for making sure the rest of the defense lines up properly, makes key reads and knows what the defensive calls are on each play.

“My primary goal is to lead our defense, to make sure everybody is lined up on the same page and when we get the call, break it out and make sure everyone is good to go with what we’re doing,” Fehr said. “Really to be the quarterback of our defense is the big role that I try to take on.”

It’s a role that Fehr takes seriously. After the mental aspect of preparing for any individual play, there comes the physical aspect of making any tackle in his area.

“Then of course, I try to be in on every play,” Fehr said. “And as the middle linebacker, I have the opportunity to do that stopping both the run and defending the pass. It’s a big responsibility, but I love it and I just try to be all over the field.”

Those traits are not lost on new defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Ted Roof.

“Jordan is very focused, very driven and wants to be exact in what he’s doing,” Roof said. “And he’s very detailed.”

Fehr, a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference linebacker in 2018, finished last season with 86 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Fehr led a defense that allowed just 126.6 yards and just 288.7 yards per game, the only team in the Sun Belt Conference that surrendered less than an average of 300 yards per game.

Appalachian State gave up 15.5 points per game, the only team in the Sun Belt to allow more than 20 points per game.

Fehr is part of a linebacking crew that includes outside linebackers Akeem Davis Gaither and Noel Cook. Both are returning seniors who made impacts on the Mountaineers’ defense.

Fehr and Gaither are both nominees for national football awards. Fehr is on the preseason Bronco Nagurski Award, which is given to the Football Writers Association of American to the best defensive player in college football.

Gaither is nominated for the Butkus Award, which is given to the top linebacker in college football by the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando, and the Bednarik Award, which is awarded to the top defensive college football judged by the Maxwell Football Club.

“Those preseason recognition awards lists. It’s an honor to be on them,” Fehr said. “To be, honest I’ve got to go out and earn that on every Saturday. The recognition is nice, especially for our school to get App State’s brand out there, but it doesn’t mean a thing unless I go out there and do what I do on Saturday.”

Fehr credits preparation for much of his success. Knowing what opposing offenses will do before they do it is a big part of Fehr’s game.

Knowing where the offensive guards are going is often his first key once the ball is snapped.

“You’ve got to read your guard first,” Fehr said. “He’ll tell you if it’s a run or pass if it’s a block down or block out or stuff like that. If you get your initial read on that, then your goal is to beat him to the point of the ball or wherever you need to go. Your goal is always to be one step ahead of him.”

Then there’s the chess match with opposing quarterbacks. Again, preparation helps Fehr in his battle with keeping up with what quarterbacks are doing once the ball is put in motion.

“Film study is huge for everyone, but for the middle linebacker especially,” Fehr said. “Trying to be the quarterback, you’ve got to know what everybody’s doing on your side of the ball and you’ve got to be able to anticipate what the offense is going to do through film study, scouting reports and stuff like that. Being able to break down their offense allows me to play faster through anticipation based on what they’re lined up in — situational football and stuff like that.”

Playing faster is a hallmark for Appalachian State’s linebackers, both past and present. It’s a trait that the current crop of App State linebackers share, and pregame preparation helps the Mountaineers utilize that speed on the field.

“The big thing is we are not the biggest defense, but we are fast,” Fehr said. “We know our jobs and when you play faster, if we hang our hat on playing fast and playing fast together trusting the guy next to you and that’s a big thing when you talk about the speed of the defense.”

Fehr had a chance to play in his hometown when the Mountaineers beat Charlotte 45-9 last season. Fehr had just two tackles, but App State’s defense held the 49ers to 95 net rushing yards and 108 passing yards.

Fehr gets another chance at Charlotte on Sept. 7 in App State’s Kidd Brewer Stadium. Appalachian State also plays at North Carolina on Sept. 21.

“Being from Charlotte and having these instate rivalries is going to be a great way to cap off my senior year,” Fehr said.

Fehr will also cap his senior year with a degree in marketing. Then it’s onto the business world.

“I love the game of football, but I can’t see myself in coaching,” Fehr said. “I might be a linebackers coach at my local high school because I do enjoy that, but I couldn’t see myself in big time collegiate or professional level. I’m going to go out into the business field and see how that works.”

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