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Satterfield’s Machine

By Jim Johnson
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Since joining the Sun Belt, in 2014, Appalachian State has reshaped the prism through which FCS-to-FBS transitions are viewed.

Since joining the Sun Belt, in 2014, Appalachian State has reshaped the prism through which FCS-to-FBS transitions are viewed.

Though former SoCon foe Georgia Southern may have started their time in the league with a bit more of a bang, winning the conference title in year one, recent speed bumps have seen the Eagles struggle to maintain the sort of consistency that App State has established.

Perhaps never before has a team moved up from the championship subdivision and so quickly integrated itself into the DNA of a conference. Not only are the Mountaineers a perennial threat, they’ve become one of the year in, year out favorites.

Unfortunately for other teams making similar transitions, Coastal Carolina, for example, the bar set in Boone is not only unreasonable and irrational, but borderline unfathomable. Setting aside  the consecutive conference titles, the sheer annual, weekly, game to game, day to day stability is beyond what most young programs have to offer.

This season, probably more than any, to date, will truly test the machine that Scott Satterfield has built. Only two starters return from last year’s defensive front seven, which has really been where this team’s bread was buttered. Taylor Lamb, the starting quarterback since Appalachian State moved to the Sun Belt is gone. Thanks to some realignment, they are slated to play both Arkansas State and Troy this season, after missing them both in 2017. Oh, and they open up at Penn State.

That said, don’t expect this team to be going anywhere fast. Nowhere but up, that is. Even in Happy Valley.

“You go in there and they have 100,000 plus fans in there, that can be pretty tough,” Satterfield began. “Our guys love that though, they feed off of it, they love the intimidation. And for a lot of our guys, they didn't get recruited by these power 5 schools, so that is kind of a chance for them to show those schools what they've got. We're excited about the schedule, we're excited about Penn State and we're looking forward to this new conference with 10 teams now.”

Offensively, Taylor Lamb’s production and efficiency will be hard to replace, but not impossible. His leadership, however, is a whole ‘nother story.

“We checked to see if Taylor could come back for one more year,” Satterfield laughed, “and he couldn't so he's done, but a four year starter man, he's been a great leader. Now we're in a new era. Zach Thomas will be our quarterback this year, he's going to be a sophomore. He hasn't played a lot but he has played some. He has great talent, a great arm, great running ability, so we're very excited for him and what he's going to be able to do. But we have a lot of great players around Zach, with receivers, offensive line, running backs, so it doesn't have to be all about Zach. I think that's why we've built our team, and I think that will really help us as we start out this year.”

Thomas will indeed be surrounded by some elite talent -- no one more so in that category than Jalin Moore.

“He's unbelievable, we had a cookout last week, we brought the guys over. He had a real tight t-shirt on like man he looks so good. He had a great season last year, and I think he's ready to have another break out season this year. He's been in our program the last four years, and we think he could be one of the best running backs in college football this year. We're really going to lean on him to be that guy for our offense. We're a running football team and he's going to be the catalyst for that. We're excited about him, we've got some other good backs as well. And then I think maybe the most talented receiving group since I've been the head coach. And I'm excited about them as well,” Satterfield continued.

“Jalin missed a lot of time last year, trying to be our number one running back. He had some dings last year, but nothing catastrophic... I think he had the flu one game. All crazy things that popped up, but he still went over 1000 yards. I think his leadership speaks volumes, I think that's the biggest thing we take from Jalin. I think he's going to be a great running back. I think he could be an NFL running back, but we've got one more year out of him now. We're gonna get everything we can out of him, he's worked his way up to maybe 210 lbs to 212 lbs now, and just chiseled, but I love the way he plays and I'm excited for him this year.”

Of course, as he mentioned, there’s no dearth of ability on the outside, either.

“We had a couple of games where we lost guys there in the middle of the season, and we were playing some young guys, but Thomas Hennigan was a true freshman last year and had over 40 catches. He had a tremendous season. Malik Williams saw a score in the bowl game, those guys are coming back. Jalen Virgil, maybe one of the fastest players in college football right now, ran a 10.2 in the 100 meters in a conference track meet. Then on top of that, a couple of guys that are coming in, Corey Sutton is coming in transferring from Kansas State, he's going to be a phenomenal talent. Dominique, he's a grad transfer coming in, he had 90 catches in the BIG 12. This is probably the most talented receiving core we've had in the last 10 years,” the head coach raved.

Even an offensive line down two guys that were among the nation’s best in 2017, is in relatively good shape.

“Vic, at left tackle, he kind of anchors that side of the line down,” Satterfield stated. “Noah Hannon was a true freshman last year, he started center every game and he did a phenomenal job. He's put on 20 lbs now so he's gonna be great. Probably the biggest question mark is the right side of our offensive line, if you look at the whole football team. We have some good young players there, just inexperienced. We're excited about what they're going to be able to do. We'll see how they act against Penn State in that first game. “

Keep in mind, as a program, Appalachian State has churned out top end o-line play just about every year since joining the FBS. That group will flourish in time.

Like the offensive line, the defensive front seven has also steadily been among the best in the game for the past few years. Suffice it to say, this program wins in the trenches, but there may be more questions than answers for that group, as opposed to their offensive counterparts.

Five lost starters, plus a new coordinator is typically not a recipe for immediate success. Nonetheless, Satterfield’s confidence is unwavering.

“I’m really excited for Bryan (Brown) to be able to take over our defense,” he stated. “We've had one of the best defenses in the country over that last 3 years and I think that Bryan is going to continue that. We utilize our whole staff on that side of the ball, a lot of these guys have been a part of our program for seven years, we have one guy that's been here for 20 years now as a linebacker coach. So we have a lot of experience on that side of the ball. Bryan is a really really good young football coach, the guys kind of gravitate towards him, the players. I think he has a really great opportunity to be an outstanding defensive coordinator this year and I'm excited for him and his family.”

In the secondary, though, specifically at cornerback, there is nothing to worry about.

“Clifton (Duck) is a great player, I think Clifton will be the first to tell you though, that it all starts up front with our defense. In our defensive line we rotate 10-11 guys up front, and it really puts pressure on the quarterback. It makes the quarterback throw the ball a little earlier, and Clifton can be there to make the interception, he's got phenomenal hands, he's extremely quick, and he has sighting for the game, and those are the things that i think set him apart. He's not very big but he plays big and with a big heart. With Emory on the edge, and you have Tae Hayes on the other side, who is an all-conference corner. I feel really good about our secondary, but again it all starts up front with our defense. Some of those guys maybe don't get the notoriety like some of the skills guys do, but it all starts up front.”

It may, in fact, all start up front, but there, genuinely, may not be five better cornerback duos in college football than Hayes and Duck. It all ends in the defensive backfield -- opposing drives, that is.

This isn’t the first year that Appalachian State has faced the sort of personnel attrition that would devastate most programs that are still in the fledgling stages of a transition, and it won't be the last. Still, the Mountaineers stand tall atop the conference.

2018 may be Satterfield and company’s toughest test since moving up, but this program, his program is built to last.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP