BOONE — Appalachian State head football coach Shawn Clark takes what he does for a living seriously.
When it comes to dealing with the recent COVID-19 virus, football becomes secondary.
Making sure his players all had places to live and a steady stream of meals and making sure they kept up with their academics became his top priority over beating somebody such as Georgia Southern or Louisiana.
Clark said that he, App State Athletic Director Doug Gillin and the athletic department at App State met March 12 to talk about what had to be done to keep the players, coaches and support staff healthy. The coaching staff communicated with the players over the next four days to inform them on what was being done at the university.
Clark said there were fewer than 10 players out of a full roster left living in Boone.
“We made sure to let those guys know that if they needed to be with their families to get out of here,” Clark said. “I think half of our staff was gone, half was in the office keeping our social distance.”
Clark said the time not spent on spring workouts was spent on recruiting. The Mountaineers staff have spent their time recently putting together their board of players they are interested in bringing to App State.
“We just finished up getting our preliminary board up,” Clark said. “This past week has been nothing but recruiting, trying to get a jump on getting offers out, not knowing what the future is going to hold in the next few days.”
Clark said many of the players were wondering if they could return to practices, but they were told to stay away since the dorms were being shut down. They were also concerned about getting their academic books, laptop computers and access to video conferences with their professors to be able to keep up with their classes.
“We’re following proper protocol for the university to do all we can to make sure our guys have all the necessary things they need to be successful,” Clark said.
Clark also said he has been out in the Boone community trying to support local restaurants and shops that have been economically hurt by the pandemic.
“Any time you can get out and support your local businesses, because they are the ones who are impacted the most right now,” Clark said. “Every morning for breakfast and lunch, I try to go out and do something for the community and just show out there that we are with you guys and will do whatever we can do to help.”
Clark compared the adjustments the public has made to the 9/11 attacks. Nearly all college football games were canceled, including App State’s game at Troy State. The game was not made up.
“I go back to 9/11 when I was an assistant at the University of Louisville,” Clark said. “They kind of put the world on pause for a while. That’s as far as I can come to as far as trying to shut down everything. It really puts everything in perspective. It makes you realize what family is about and that’s what we talked about all the time.”
Clark said he’s reached out to several Power 5 coaches, including former App State coach Scott Satterfield. He’s also reached out to former App State offensive line coach and current Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott for insight on how to deal with the situation.
He said that has been helpful, but this, as dealing with 9/11, is uncharted territory.
“The thing is, no one knows what to do.” Clark said. “We have a plan in place as we got the word, but everyone we talked to says the same thing. Make sure your players have a place to live, a place to eat and make sure their academics are on par. We can’t take a chance of a kid flunking a class. Try to keep your kids eligible and make sure you do the right thing until they get this virus under control.”