By Colby Gable
This weekend, as the middle of the football season makes it way around the corner, Appalachian State is scheduled for a trip to Mobile, Alabama, where they will face The University of Southern Alabama on their Homecoming Day. While at the opening to this week’s Press Conference, Coach Drinkwitz opened the floor by saying, “Another week in the Sun Belt, another quality opponent on the road,” many questions and focuses from those inside the media and out, revolve around the focus or the energy of the team itself. Maybe it isn’t all that abnormal to take a step back and enjoy the scenery of finding one’s self ranked among the top twenty-one teams in the nation, the highest of Appalachian’s program and of any Sun Belt team in history. Or to become distracted from accomplishing something no team in a conference’s history has been able to accomplish what Drinkwitz has is a single year (albeit a team primarily strung together from the time of Satterfield.)
For Drinkwitz, however, even taking the time to appreciate the season is time wasted, as some of the most challenging aspects of the year still remain waiting. “I’ve really been challenging the staff to create depth. We’re only six games in and there’s a lot of football left to be played. We’ve played three games in the last forty-two days, and now we’re going to play six, potentially seven, games in forty-two days. So, we’ve got to develop depth.”
Indeed, the notion of looking to the past while the present is undealt with seems to be against Drinkwitz’s nature in general. New goals are centered around the cultivation of improvement in all areas for the individual, as opposed to reaching for a certain place in the college football world in hopes to make a name or accomplish a somewhat artificial aspect of the game. When asked if stepping inside the top twenty while the team sits at #21 coming into the week is part of any motivation for what he hopes to accomplish, Drinkwitz replies, “No. We’re trying to win the Sun Belt Conference Championship, and a Bowl game, with class, integrity, and academic excellence. Rankings don’t matter until we’re done with the season. Right now, all that is for us is noise.”
What isn’t noise, however, are the actual goals and aspects of the game he is concerned about, such as finding a running back which certifiably holds the third spot on the depth chart. To those looking to secure the position behind Darrynton Evans, who has been one of the most productive running backs in the country this season, and Marcus Williams Jr. who has the third most all-purpose yards on the team behind Evans and WR Thomas Hennigan, Drinkwitz had short but clear statement, “Don’t fumble.” Takeaways, in general, have been completely in control of Appalachian as Zac Thomas only has three interceptions on the year, and Evans has a total of zero fumbles on his career, so despite the efficiency, turnovers are a continued emphasis on the team’s character.
Apart from the on-field play, however, Drinkwitz attributes the doubters as those which he uses for motivation to do well than anything else. “For me, I like to have a chip on my shoulder. So things that make me feel on a personal level, disrespected, or whatever I use to fuel the fire instead of patting me on the back and saying ‘good job.’” He went on to say, “This is the most praised generation in the history of the world, they’ve heard ‘good job’ so many times it means nothing to them now, it has to be specific praise or specific motivation and that’s what we’ve been trying to do; find specific things we can get to them to try and play at a high level, and if you pat someone on the back too much they get comfortable.” So, we’re trying to find out competitive edge whatever that might be. It’s not always a disrespect factor, we want to make a statement, we want to perform at our best.”
The on-the-field-play calling and experience of being the head coach has been a transition that has seemingly gone about as smooth as possible for a rookie head coach. When asked about how he implements the process of the Mountaineers’ offense, “It’s just kind of the secret sauce we can’t dole out,” he says only somewhat jokingly. “We have a mechanism in place so it’s not memorization. We have signals and code words or whatever it might be. It’s similar to a two-minute offense but it’s not two play calls in a huddle or anything like that, it’s just a mechanism in place that our quarterback has, and those guys on the sideline know to get them going as quick as we can.”
Later in the week on Mountaineer Talk at Café Portofino’s, which featured senior Safeties Desmond Franklin and Josh Thomas, Drinkwitz mentioned some bulletin points from the win versus the University of Louisiana Monroe to highlight areas they will need to make an impact on in the future. He discussed some reflections of the defense saying, “I thought we did a nice job defensively especially on third down and getting off the field. I think we held them to 75% 3-and-outs, so I did not expect our defense to play that good going into the game.”
Two that contributed to the win, Franklin and Thomas, also had comments about what the transition has been like going from one coaching staff as a junior to a completely newer one as a senior and why this season has still been successful. “There’s been a higher level of execution going on this year,” Thomas said. “Just executing the gameplan is the main thing, and being with more comfortable with coach Roof and how he calls the gameplan…being with him over more and more time has helped us play a lot better these last two games.” Thomas went on to agree with the sentiment, saying “We’re definitely getting more comfortable with the schemes. You can just do exactly what you’re supposed to and know everything is going to work from there.”
At the beginning of the season, Coach Drinkwitz was continuously stressing the building of “DNA” and developing an identity of sorts, which takes all of the various parts of being a successful team into account effectively. As we will enter the second half of the season after Saturday, this Appalachian team has held firm in their search for a Sun Belt title and will have a chance to improve their chances once again in Mobile tomorrow night.
All Mountaineer Talk shows, which are distributed through the Appalachian Sports Network from Learfield IMG College, will begin at 7 p.m. and run until 8 p.m., each Tuesday until November 26, in the main dining room at Café Portofino. If you’re not in the audience, Mountaineer Talk can also be heard live on the following radio affiliates throughout the state: WKBC 97.3 FM in the Wilkesboro/Boone area.
Photos by Dave Mayo, taken at the August 27 edition of Mountaineer Talk at Café Portofino