BOONE — When Watauga graduate Sam Sappington made a visit to Lenoir-Rhyne looking for a chance to run track for the Bears, he did not have any plans for playing football at the university.
A chance conversation with one of the Lenoir-Rhyne football coaches changed that. Sappington still plans to throw the discus and the shot put at the Lenoir-Rhyne, but he will also walk-on to the Bears’ football team.
Sappington, who mostly played defensive end in Watauga’s defense, will be tried at defensive end and at tight end on offense. It was a twist that Sappington did not expect to have in his visit, which he said was in July.
“I asked the administrator if I could do both and he said yes,” Sappington said. “I talked to the track coach about it and he added me to the roster, so that was good.”
Sappington said he’s been training to get ready for the football season. The Bears’ first workout, which is Aug. 12, will be held in the Hickory heat and humidity, instead of the milder temperatures in Boone.
Sappington said he’s been preparing for the tryouts by working on drills on the Watauga fields and by lifting weights.
“The football coach basically told me to just keep lifting and make sure I’m in good shape,” Sappington said. “It’s going to be hot down there and we’re going to be doing a lot of running so, it’s going to be a lot rougher.”
Sappington did not have a chance to talk with the Lenoir-Rhyne coaching staff about what the Bears’ defensive scheme would involve him playing defensive end from a three-point stance or from a standing two-point stance similar to an outside linebacker.
At Watauga, he played largely in a three-point stance. Sappington finished with 36 tackles, including four sacks for 13 yards in losses. He also had eight tackles for a loss of yardage and two pass breakups.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Sappington said. “I wasn’t thinking I was anywhere in the ballpark with football. When they said that, I thought it was my chance, so I thought I would take it.”
Watauga head football coach Ryan Habich said the Lenoir-Rhyne football team will get a player who playing hard either in practice or in the games.
“He’s a high-motor guy,” Habich said. “He had a really good year last year and he’s pretty athletic. He’s pretty quick and he got better throughout the years.”
Sappington said he’s also been throwing the shot put and discus in his preparations to be a track athlete at Lenoir-Rhyne. He said both the shot puts and the discus are heavier in college than in high school, which is something he will have to get used to.
“It’s most likely disc,” Sappington said. “They said they were going to try me at shot too. They are a lot different to throw.”
Sappington finished seventh overall in the state 3-A championships in the discus with a toss of 142-feet 10-inches.
Sappington was also All-Northwestern Conference in the shot put after finishing second in the NWC championships in the event.
Watauga track coach Randy McDonough said it might take a little time for Sappington to adjust to college track because the discus used and the shot put ball used are both heavier in college than in high school.
“He will be throwing a 16-pound shot instead of a 12-pound shot and the disc goes up in weight,” McDonough said. “There’s going to be an adjustment period for him, but I do believe that they way he started coming on this year, things started to click.”
He was throwing in the spring after he had spent the fall playing football. Sappington knows it won’t be easy, but he’s anxious to try to play both sports at Lenoir-Rhyne.
The track team has a new coach in Kevin Paterson, who took over the program in June. The head coach for the Lenoir-Rhyne football team is Drew Cronic, who was hired in 2017.
“I’m excited,” Sappington said. “It’s going to be a little different and challenging, but I feel I’m up for it. It never really hit me playing college sports, but my senior year it finally hit me and I thought I’d really like to.”