BOONE — Nearly three weeks after his team last took the field, Appalachian State football head coach Shawn Clark held his post-season press conference on Thursday, looking back on the 2021 Mountaineers season with pride.
The Mountaineers bagged 10 wins for the 15th time in school history in the program’s 72nd winning season.
“Every one in our organization — our players, our coaches, everyone who touched our players’ lives — gave their all for Appalachian State this year,” Clark said. “We won 10 football games and that’s a very big deal in college football and that’s something we don’t take lightly here. We played in a conference championship game, went to a bowl game and that’s something we strive to do every single year.”
While the season’s end saw App State miss out on silverware, Clark said it was still one for the record books. They beat teams from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA and every Sun Belt opponent they faced except for champions Louisiana-Lafayette.
Nate Noel ran for 1,126 yards, giving the team a 1,000-yard rusher for the 10th straight year, while transfer quarterback Chase Brice broke Armanti Edwards’ single-season passing yards record dating back to 2009.
“Our fans broke the Appalachian State single-season (attendance) record and the Sun Belt Conference record,” Clark said.
Clark noted that 2021 was a continuation of the success the program has built up since entering the FBS in 2014 — where App has had a winning record every year and cracked 10 wins on five occasions.
“We played 14 games and every game we played was a championship game. We get everyone’s best shot here at Appalachian State,” Clark said. “We have a target on our backs and we like that, that’s something we strive for. We’re on top of the mountain and our goal is to maintain that success here.”
Even with the proverbial target, the Mountaineers still had a season that saw them claim wins over fierce rivals Marshall, a nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina squad and in-state opponents East Carolina. App’s schedule was not an easy road to 10 wins either, with four games coming against opponents that were ranked at some point in the season — three games being against ranked sides at kickoff — and a bowl game against one of the greatest passing attacks to grace the college game.
The loss to WKU ended the Mountaineers’ bowl game winning streak at six and was the first bowl loss in program history.
“Inevitably, it’s going to happen. It happens to Alabama, it happens to Georgia and they’re playing in the national championship this year,” Clark said. “It’s something for us to build on and we’re going for the long-term here. You look around college football and only a few programs in college football have had the the sustained success we’ve had here.”
Building on that history of success will be more difficult after losing many players who were key figures in recent years.
The Mountaineers will face unprecedented turnover heading into the 2022 season. Thirty-three players from the 2021 team were seniors, COVID-19 super-seniors or graduate students that could have seen the 59-38 bowl game loss to Western Kentucky be their final act in an App jersey.
Clark confirmed that Brice, All-American Steven Jones Jr. and fellow defensive stalwart Trey Cobb are returning, but the losses are still heavy.
Brice’s entire starting receiving corps, return ace Jalen Virgil, mauling lineman Baer Hunter, defensive stars D’Marco Jackson, Kaiden Smith and Shaun Jolly and the program’s all-time leading scorer Chandler Staton are all departing.
“I want to say thank you to all the seniors that graduated,” Clark said of the departures. “If you look at their accolades, the championships they won, that’s a tribute to those guys coming in and giving their all for Appalachian State. Those kids played a lot of football games here — won a lot of games — but now we’re moving to the future.”
Clark, his staff and the players have about a month before the spring training begins in February. The Mountaineers are slated to open their 2022 season at home against North Carolina on Sept. 3, with matchups against Texas A&M, Marshall and Coastal grabbing the headlines.