By David Rogers. June 5, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — It is a compelling story — and was recounted by three main characters at Monday’s meeting of The Rotary Club of Blowing Rock at Chetola Mountain Resort in Blowing Rock.
In many respects, Appalachian State University’s football team carved out a place in college gridiron lore the past two years, first going to a bowl game in its first year of eligibility, winning that game, and then repeating the feat last year. No team has been as successful in making the transition from the NCAA Division I-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) to Division I-A (Bowl Championship Subdivision).
We compete in 20 sports with 450 student-athletes. And ‘student’ is the priority.
So it was with a great deal of interest that Blowing Rock Rotary members got a peek inside the covers. The book being written by athletic department leadership, the football coaches and the student-athletes is part history, part biography, part whimsical romance, and all thrill-a-minute adventure.
Recruited to speak to the club by Chuck Canady, Blowing Rock Rotary’s President-Elect, App State was represented (in order of appearance) by Brian Tracy, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Development, serving as emcee of the program; Doug Gillin, athletic director; Scott Satterfield, head football coach; and Taylor Lamb, about to begin his fourth year as the team’s starting quarterback.
For a group of current and retired businessmen, businesswomen, and civic leaders, Gillin’s comments were music to the Rotarians’ respective ears. Appalachian State Athletics is committed first and foremost to the “student” in student-athlete, as well as the athletes’ development as active contributors to the community in which they live.
“We’re excited about the combination of Blowing Rock and Boone,” Gillin said, smiling. “Some people have said that (Blowing Rock) is so far away, but it is only 10 minutes! It is amazing how close we are and how much impact we all can have on our community.
“To give you a brief overview of our athletic program,” said Gillin, now in his third year at the helm of App State Sports. “We compete in 20 sports with 450 student athletes. And ‘student’ is the priority. First and foremost our goal is to graduate each and everyone of those 450 students.”
We are about transforming lives. That is our business.
He added, “What we talk about is a transformational experience. It’s not just about having them come here and win games and get a degree. We are about transforming lives. That is our business.
“So we really focus on academic integrity, first and foremost,” Gillin continued. “But secondly, we focus on our social responsibility. We think we have an ability to have an impact on our community. Last year, our student-athletes spent over 3,000 hours in the community.”
Gillin went on to reinforce the program’s commitment to community involvement by disclosing that the football team had, within the past 48 hours, accepted a young Boone student stricken with cancer who will be part of the football program in the upcoming season.
“The program is a national program called, ‘Student Impact’,” the AD shared. “We have the ability to impact the life of this young man and we are really excited about taking on that opportunity.”
Gillin continued by saying that the third plank of the athletic department’s priorities is to be competitive. “When we put on a jersey, we want to win. We are in a competitive environment where we keep score every day. All of our student-athletes, in all sports, want to win on the fields of play and the courts of play. We are passionate about that.”
Lastly, Gillin said that the over-arching goal of his department is to have each student athlete who has gone through the program to have the most satisfying of experiences.
“When they graduate and get their degree,” noted Gillin, “when we ask them if they had to do it all over again, where would they want to go to college, we want 100% of them to say, ‘Appalachian State.’ When moms and dads drop off their children at our doorstep, we are responsible for them morally, ethically, and their well-being…We are a unique setting for a university. When they come up the mountain it has to be the right fit for the student-athlete and it has to be a right fit for the university.”
Gillin re-emphasized the importance of academics.
When we played Miami, there were millions of people who got to see who we all really are through a different lens.
“We are the 28th best public school in America,” he shared. “We talk a lot about the academics. You can ask Scott (Satterfield) how hard it is to get seniors wanting to get into college, how hard it is to recruit at Appalachian…It is hard to get into Appalachian State (academically) and it is hard to compete at our (NCAA Division I and FBS) level.”
Before turning the floor over to Satterfield, Gillin explained that when the Mountaineers’ football team visits the University of Georgia in Athens, GA on September 2nd, the game will be televised on ESPN, and the athletic department uses that exposure to advantage.
“One thing we are passionate about,” he said in preparing to conclude his remarks, “is that we provide a window for people to see our community. Not just Appalachian State football. They get to see Boone, the University, and they get to see the High Country. When we played Miami University last year, there were millions of viewers who got to see who we all are through a different lens.
“We believe that the more vibrant our region’s economy,” Gillin concluded, “the better it is for all of us — including the possibility that more folks will buy season tickets! An economic impact study was just completed, and it shows that App State Sports had over a $50 million economic impact on the High Country last year…We are proving that we can be an economic driver…There are 17,000 or so students enrolled at Appalachian State. Almost 12,000 came to the Miami game. It is the fabric of who we are as a university when you have that many students taking part in one event.”
It is the holistic approach we have for our student-athletes.
Satterfield briefly reviewed the success of the football program in preparing young men for potential professional football careers, reporting that last year’s student guest in the Rotary presentation, offensive lineman Parker Collins, is now competing for a spot on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Kennan Gilchrist an outside linebacker has a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys, while defensive back Alex Gray is now vying for a position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Satterfield added that last month defensive back Mondo Williams signed with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. He admitted that he does not understand why star running back Marcus Cox, who holds many of Appalachian State’s rushing records, has not stuck with a professional team yet.
“It blows my mind,” said Satterfield. “Marcus is the all-time leading rusher in Appalachian State history. He is a tremendous football player and a great person. He got his business degree. He has had several tryouts (with NFL teams) but has not stuck with a team yet. Whether he gets that opportunity remains to be seen, but he will be successful at whatever he does.
“That’s what Doug (Gillin) was talking about,” Satterfield added. “It is the holistic approach that we have for our student-athletes. It’s just about being a good football player. We are trying to develop men. They come here as 17-, 18-year old youths and we are trying to get turn them out as 22- and 23-year olds as men, ready to attack the world in whatever is their endeavor, whether coaching or business or whatever. That’s our job. That’s my job.”
You are looking at about 45 guys the last two years coming in here with an average of about a 3.50 GPA in high school. That is among the highest in the country.
Satterfield noted that one of the priorities he brought with him four years ago in coming back to App State was to raise the academic profile of the student athletes competing on the football team. He said that the most recent class of 19 students had an average GPA of 3.47, and the year before the class of 22 guys averaged a 3.52.
“You are looking at around 45 guys in the last two classes that are averaging about 3.50 in GPA,” the App State head football mentor emphasized. “That is as high or higher than just about any school in the country.”
Satterfield explained to the Rotarians that the emphasis on academics has great on-the-field benefits. He recalled for the group that in 2016, the Mountaineers won the Sun Belt Conference championship and for the second year in a row not only earned a bowl berth, but won the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.
“We finished that semester with a 2.77 GPA (in college coursework),” he said, “which is the highest we have ever had in a fall term (during football season).
“It does correlate,” he added. “You do things right on the field and in the classroom, it works and we are extremely proud of that. We are trying to elevate that team GPA.”
Satterfield reminded the Rotarians that App State is one of 128 peer schools nationally competing at the FBS level.
“Our peer schools in the Sun Belt Conference,” he observed, “don’t have the same (high) academic standards. We only have two junior college players on our whole roster of 110 players. Just as an example, Arkansas State signed 16 JC transfers in one class. The profile of recruit that we are recruiting is not just a good football player, but a good student, too.”
After admitting that he and his assistant coaches sometimes have to walk away from promising football prospects because their grades don’t fit the school, Satterfield noted that there is also an on-field benefit for the high academic standards. “If we have to tell a player to do or read a certain situation five or six times or more, we’re not going to be very good. But if he gets it after only once or twice, that improves our chance of being successful…The guys with lower GPAs might be able to help us on the field, but we are not just looking for that.”
Get your tickets now because, like Miami, the Wake Forest game will be a sellout.
Satterfield underlined the recruiting challenges, especially academically, by noting that the University gets some 15,000 applications every year but only accepts about 3,500, which puts even more pressure on the athletic coaches to raise their academic standards for recruiting.
“The average GPA coming to App State is a 4.0,” he stated. “So it is very, very competitive as far as the academics are concerned when we bring guys in.”
Looking at the success of the school’s transition to the FBS level, Satterfield — who has spent 21 of the last 26 years at Appalachian State as student, assistant coach and head coach — recounted that the team’s overall record is 20-4 in the last three years. No other team making the transition has become bowl eligible their first year and certainly no other team has won a bowl the first year nor won a bowl game their first two years on the FBS level.”
Satterfield’s passion and commitment for App State football is infectious. After rattling off memories of last year’s opening season thriller, an overtime loss at Southeastern Conference (SEC)-powerhouse Tennessee, the dyed in black-and-gold head coach talked about how remarkable the fan turnout was for the Miami game last year, the season-opening matchup this season against another SEC power, Georgia, in Athens, and the opportunity to see how the Mountaineers stack up against an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) team in hosting Wake Forest at Kidd-Brewer Stadium.
“Get your tickets now,” Satterfield encouraged the Rotarians, “because like Miami, that game will sell out.”
Since the Demon Deacons are based only a little more than an hour’s drive away, in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest could well evolve into a regional rivalry, even if the teams compete in different conferences.
“That Tennessee game last year,” Satterfield observed, “was the first game of the season, played on Thursday night and nationally televised on ESPN. In taking the Volunteers to overtime, Appalachian State got noticed throughout the country…This year’s (nationally televised) game at Georgia should be no different. Like Tennessee, Georgia won 8 or 9 games last year. This year they are picked to win the SEC North division, so there is a lot of hype around this game for us.”
Satterfield described for the Rotarians a competitive atmosphere that the coaches have built into the program leading up to the season.
“All the guys are up here on the mountain now,” he said. “We divide the roster into smaller teams and they are competing against each other, they score points or get points taken away, based on their work in academics, the weight room, and on the field. We have been doing it this way now for four years and it has been outstanding because when you go through that (grind of working out) everyday, you tend to get bogged down. When you have teammates depending on you, you can’t get bogged down. You have to compete. You stay motivated. If you are late to practice, late to treatment, or late to class, you get points taken off. It is not just football. We are competing in all aspects (of being a student-athlete).”
The reward is in the results.
“Last semester,” Satterfield noted, “we had 47 players (out of the 85 scholarship players) who had better than a 3.0 GPA. We’re proud of that. It is encouraging for us as coaches to know that our guys are handling their business in class.”
We don’t get the 4-star and 5-star athletes out of high school, so we develop players.
During the Q&A, Satterfield and Gillin noted:
- The football team has 85 scholarship athletes compared to 63 scholarships that were available at the FCS level. At the FBS-level where App State is now competing, the team cannot divide scholarships. One full scholarship goes to one student-athlete.
- Out of state scholarships awarded are more expensive (approximately $30,000) because of state-mandated out-of-state tuition costs for attending a taxpayer-funded institution. In-state scholarships are approximately $18,000. Yosef Club’s fundraising activities go a long way toward helping fund out of state scholarships. “That is why Yosef Club is so important,” Gillin said. “We are not fully funded as an athletic department.”
- All of the school’s sports were at the 1A level except for football, which is now with the move to the Sun Belt Conference but, Gillin noted, the level of competition in all sports is significantly higher in the Sun Belt than it was, previously, when App State was a member of the Southern Conference.
- From a scholarship standpoint, the athletic department only fully funds football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s tennis and volleyball. “We’re trying,” Gillin stated, “to raise money to fully fund all of our sports.”
- The State of North Carolina has 18 Division 1-A athletic programs, so it is highly competitive to attract the best in-state recruits. “It is almost as crowded with Division I schools as California, but once you start going out of state, it gets more expensive, almost double.”
- Editor’s Note: NC Division 1 colleges and universities include Appalachian State, Campbell University, UNC-Charlotte, Davidson College, Duke University, East Carolina University, Elon University, Gardner-Webb University, High Point University, NC State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central University, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Wilmington, Wake Forest University and Western Carolina University.
- Asked what keeps him awake at night, Satterfield admitted, “We recruit a lot of great guys and we of course we like to think we have recruited a bunch of angels (laughs from the crowd), but they come to us as 18- and 19-year old boys. I started to realize the (challenge) of that because now I have 14- and 15-year-old sons and they are about half crazy (smiling, to laughs from the crowd)! So now I understand how hard it is for parents to deal with teenagers. To put it into perspective, we have 110 players on our football team that are 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds. So at night I am always worried about what they are doing and the choices they are making. I am thinking about what we can be doing to keep them occupied…It is easy to get distracted when you are 18 years old. Females are probably the biggest thing! (more laughs). We have to keep them focused on academics and football. Everything we talk about is team-oriented. They have to understand that the team is bigger than (the individual). You don’t want (your behavior) to hurt the team. I am always wondering if I am doing my best job as a head coach to these young guys become men.”
- The opportunity for walk-ons is more limited today than in 1991 when Satterfield arrived on campus as a walk-on because there is a limit to the total roster (110) and 85 of those spots are taken up by scholarship athletes. “I like to offer a lot of opportunities for walk-ons, so it hurts that I am limited. We have to turn down a lot of kids. But we do have them and we have some great walk-ons. One of my favorite things as a head coach is to be able to hand a scholarship to a walk-on player who has earned it. We average three or four a year who are rewarded with scholarships.”
The obvious goal is to get players graduated and moving on to bigger and better things, but team continuity requires replacing them on your current roster. Satterfield shared that among the guys who were redshirted last year, “The most exciting guy that I can’t wait to get on the field is Jalen Virgil, a wide receiver. He is from Georgia and came out of high school having won the state championship in the 100 meter dash, so he can fly. This spring, he ran the fastest 40-yard dash time on our team. He is a redshirt freshman and 210 lbs. So he is a big kid and the fastest kid. Beyond that, he is awesome. He is fun to be around and works his tail off. Another guy coming on the scene is Jordan Fair, a linebacker. He had five classes last year, and got four A’s and one B+. He is one of the strongest kids on the team. It is his freshman year. So we have some exciting young players coming into the fold. I could talk about them all day.”
- As a school that is unable to attract 4-star and 5-star athletes right out of high school, App State is more of a “developmental” school, Satterfield said. So he (and other coaches) will have more young players redshirting as they develop, with fewer athletes playing a year or two and then going on to professional ranks. “Sometimes those 4-star and 5-star high school athletes going to an SEC school,” Satterfield noted, “by their third year they are already an All-American. With the money involved, you can’t blame them for jumping to the NFL after their junior year because what happens if they blow out a knee their senior season? All those millions of dollars are gone. But we don’t have that problem here. We have more developmental players. As an example, two years ago Ronald Blair, a defensive lineman, came in and started for us as a freshman and sophomore but ended up redshirting his third year. Then he played his junior and senior year. He ended up getting drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. Had he not redshirted and so not played that fifth year (of development), he would not have been drafted. He would have been one of those walk-on free agents to the NFL, but not guaranteed the opportunity. He is awesome human being and had a great year last year with the 49ers.”
Quarterback Taylor Lamb will be a senior at Appalachian State this year and comes from a family with a football pedigree. His father, Bobby Lamb, was head coach at Furman University, a former Southern Conference rival of the Mountaineers. “Taylor grew up in football, even as a ball boy for Furman. He went to Calhoun High School in Calhoun, Georgia, where they won the state championship his junior year and was runner-up his senior year,” Satterfield said in introducing the 4-year starter at football’s pivotal position.
“He redshirted his first year,” recalled Satterfield, “developed and is now #2 in the country with the most wins as a starting quarterback. He’s got 27 wins. Oklahoma (redshirt senior Baker Mayfield) is the only quarterback with more wins than Taylor. To put that into perspective, DeShaun Watson of Clemson finished last year with 32 wins as the most in the nation.” Looking at Lamb, Satterfield added, “Hopefully you are going to be at 37 or 38 after this year.”
Lamb, who aims to coach after graduating, disclosed that in the spring he figured out that the intrasquad competition that the team has in the off-season scores heavily on grades and attitude. “So when I drafted my team, I looked for the smartest guys and guys who would bring great attitudes every day. That is a great testament, though, to the coaching staff (and their priorities), with a high emphasis on work ethic and grades. But it took me a couple of years to figure that (formula) out.”
The redshirt senior is now able to look back and laugh at an inauspicious beginning. “My first pass when I go here, went backwards!
“Redshirting was the best thing for me,” the 6’2″, 200-lb. signal caller said. “I was able to develop, my mind and body.”
During his redshirt freshman year, he sat the first two games, then “got thrown into the fire.” He noted that they lost his first four games and wasn’t sure what was going on, but then the Mountaineers stormed back to win the last six games in a row to finish their first (transitional) season in the Sun Belt.
In response to a question, Lamb said that the best thing about Appalachian State other than football are the relationships he has been able to develop, not just on the team but everywhere around campus.
When asked what the “toughest” thing has been, he smiled to a lot of laughs when he said, “Waking up in the morning!”
One questioner recalled the first Camellia Bowl game and the rollercoaster win, the Mountaineers coming back from a large deficit after three quarters. “How do you refocus your team? How do you get the guys to come back like that?”
“It starts with belief,” Lamb answered. “If you don’t believe, it is not going to happen.”
In other Rotary business:
- Pat Collins (wife of member Hank Collins) provided information about the upcoming “Mile of Flowers” events.
- Jim Clabough reported that Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show advertising sales amounted to almost $37,000. He also unveiled a “proof” copy of the program, the quality of which has been upgraded for the 2017 edition.
- Wayne Holliday solicited needed volunteers for the coming weekend to man the admission gate for the Horse Show’s “Saddlebred” competition.
- Rob Mendel announced that his wife is hosting a quilt-making exhibition at the American Legion Hall on June 10th
- Virginia Vanstory invited volunteers to help park cars for the two music festivals (August and September) at The Blowing Rock, earning some money for Rotary and getting into the events free in the process
- Cullie Tarleton brought the Artists In Residence series at Edgewood Cottage to the Rotarians’ attention