There was a time at Appalachian State when quarterback Zac Thomas was the backup to starter Taylor Lamb.
Thomas was a redshirt freshman from Trussville, Ala., and the year was 2017. Then Lamb graduated following the 2017 season and Thomas earned the starting position to start the 2018 season under head coach Scott Satterfield.
Thomas thrived under Satterfield’s system, but life threw a curve at the sophomore quarterback. Satterfield left Appalachian State at the end of the 2018 season for Louisville days after the Mountaineers beat Louisiana for the Sun Belt Conference championship.
Appalachian State prepared for the New Orleans Bowl not knowing who its 2018 head coach was going to be, but pummeled Middle Tennessee in the bowl game 45-13. If Satterfield’s departure and the hiring of new coach Eliah Drinkwitz two days before the game were distractions, both looked to be minimal, at least on the field.
“As a team, I think we just bought in,” Thomas said. “We trusted each other and let it go there. We didn’t let any outside talk affect us on the field. That showed how strong our team was just by not letting things like that affect you in any way and just going out there and compete and keeping the outside talk on the outside.”
Thomas remained the starting quarterback under Drinkwitz, but had to earn the position again. Thomas said that even though he is still the starter under a new coach, just being the returning starter is different than earning the job for the first time.
“It’s a different scenario,” Thomas said during spring practice. “Last year I was fighting for the job. This year as the starter, I have to go into it with the same mentality, because any of those quarterbacks can take your job any day. I’ve got to go in there every day, compete to the best of my ability, lead the team and go out there and get the offense going.”
Thomas said the new offense Drinkwitz has installed is not more difficult than Satterfield used, but there is one big difference. The new offense uses more passing to move the ball, while the offense under Satterfield used running the football as the team’s main source of ball control.
The new offense will include running the football, just not as much. It means Thomas will likely be working more with App State’s receiving corps over the summer.
Thomas feels that the way the Mountaineers will pass the ball will have an unforeseen side effect.
“I think that’s going to help our running game even more than what it has been,” Thomas said. “I think it’s just a matter of we have to connect to receivers. We’ve got to spend a lot of work with them and get our timing down.”
The old offense allowed Thomas to throw for 2,039 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions on 62.6 percent passing. Thomas also ran for 504 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
Even with solid numbers, Thomas has had to make adjustments to the new offense. Thomas was a constant threat to run out of the pocket, but he said the Mountaineers’ new offense will have him trying to get the ball to App State’s receivers.
“The one main focus I’m trying to work on is staying in the pocket,” Thomas said. “Last year, obviously, I was a running quarterback. I liked to get out of that pocket, even if receivers were open. That was just the kind of person I was last year. This year, I’m trying to be more of a team player, get the ball to the receivers and let them make the plays and put that on them. Just find the open guy and just get it to them, stay in the pocket and trust my offensive linemen.”
Thomas said spring practice was an important first step in learning Drinkwitz’s system and getting used to the several new assistant coaches brought in by the new head coach.
Thomas also added that what happens over the summer is also important to the improvement and the understanding of the new offense.
“From o-line to quarterbacks to receivers, everybody is learning something new,” Thomas said. “The summer is going to be huge for us to get in there and watch the film and learn what we need to do and get on the field and throw to the receivers and stuff.”
Whether he is throwing the ball or running with it, Thomas knows all eyes in the stadium, be they defenses or fans, are on him when the Mountaineers have the ball. But Thomas is willing to share the attention with his teammates, which returns an experienced running game and receiving corps.
Thomas said there’s plenty of spotlight to go around when it comes to the Mountaineers’ offense.
“I’ve got to stay humble and I can’t let it get to my head and affect how I play on the field,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to be a jerk in the locker room and stuff like that. I have to keep to be a team player in everything I do and trust what these guys do.”